Tags: Andrew Wyeth, artists and their lovers, Christina's World, Helga, Loving Frank, obituary
I was saddened to learn today that Andrew Wyeth has passed away. He has been one of my favorite artists ever since I wrote a paper about him my senior year of high school. I wasn’t one to be very interested in art at the time, but his work and his life opened my eyes to what beauty is and should be.
He is most well known for “Christina’s World,” but I loved most everything he did. I remembered being drawn to his Helga pictures. I found them to be captivating and I feel that they depict women as they are, not as how we are often objectified. They caused a scandal because Helga was not his wife. I am still not sure where I stand on the issue of artists finding so much inspiration from a woman who is not their wife. This theme came up most recently for me while reading Loving Frank. Human beings are flawed. While I don’t condone cheating on anyone, the world is big and forgiving enough to allow us to make something beautiful out of our mistakes. It would be a tragedy to throw away or hide something just because its origins may be morally otherwise offensive.
Thank you, Andrew Wyeth for sharing your vision with the world. It will always be a more beautiful place because you were here. I wish you warmth and love in the hereafter.
Tags: 11th Century Normandy, book review, England, fiction, Georgette Heyer, Historical Fiction, Lady Matilda, The Conqueror, William the Conqueror, William the Conqueror's modernization of warfare
The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer
The Conqueror tells the story of William the Conqueror, from his bastard birth, to his life as the Duke of Normandy, and finaly to his triumphant rise to the throne of England. Given the circumstances of William’s life and the political climate of both Normandy and England in the 11th century, this is quite an undertaking.
After reading The Reluctant Widow, I was very excited to start The Conqueror. My thinking was that if I loved her Regency Romances, I would really love her historical fiction. I was mistaken. Unlike The Reluctant Widow, this novel took me over a week to finish. This was mainly due to the slow and inconsistent pacing of the plot. While much time and energy was spent on William the Conqueror’s numerous battles, very little was spent on his relationship with Matilda or who he really was as a man. This lack of character development was true throughout, filling pages with numerous supporting characters between whom I could not readily distinguish. For me, they further bogged down the story and made it seem even that much longer than it really was.
There were flashes of Heyer’s brilliance when she tells of the circumstances of William’s birth, when she introduces Raoul, the fictional man through whom we meet William as a man and learn of his exploits, and when she tells of William’s “courting” of Lady Matilda. I also found it interesting to learn of ways in which William modernized the warfare of the day through strategy and the inclusion of archers. Clearly, William is a man capable of capturing the imagination of readers nearly a full century after his full and adventurous life. Unfortunately, this potential was lost to me amidst the superfluous characters and many of the battles in Normandy that did not add to the plot or provide any additional insight into William or, for that matter, Raoul or Matilda.
While The Conqueror did not engage me or take me away to time and places of William’s life, I am glad to have read it. This novel is best approached as one to read over a period of time. It would be interesting to read this in chapters or sections as a prelude to a thorough biography. I am curious to learn more about William, Matilda and and the lives of their children. In that way, this novel was a success. I hope to find a good book that focuses on the life that William and Matilda shared. If you have any suggestions, I would be most appreciative.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: A'isha bint Abi Baker, beginnings of Islam, book review, controversial book, Early Reviewers, fiction, harim, Historical Fiction, Islam, LibraryThing, Mecca, Muhammad, Random House, Sherry Jones, The Jewel of Medina
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.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: Alabama, book review, cancer, fiction, friendship, Georgia, Raymond L. Atkins, redemption, Southern fiction, The Front Porch Prophet
The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
When you pick up a good novel written about the south by a Southern author, you can tell. There is just something about that area and the writers it creates that is unique, remarkable and gorgeous. Had William Faulkner, Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell not been from the south, their novels would not be remembered today. Had a writer with equal skill but who grew up outside of the south written To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel would have been condescending and the characters a mere stereotype. Atticus would have inevitably been a Yankee and Boo Radley would have been nothing more than a sideshow freak resulting from inbreeding. It took a southerner to shed light on the southern life in such an honest, warm and loving way. Atkins does just that in his debut novel.
The Front Porch Prophet tells the story of A.J. Longstreet, a man who lost his mother at birth. He was raised in Sequoya, Georgia by his father and grandmother and he became an honorable man with a loving wife and three children, all named after authors. He loved his family and his home, but was unfulfilled in his job supervising at the local mill. He was content to stay where he was until he reconciled with his life-long friend, Eugene Purdue. Eugene, who grew up in an unhappy marriage and had a seemingly never ending wild streak, learned that he had terminal cancer. He asked A.J. to come up to visit him up on his mountain to make amends and to ask him to do the unthinkable – put him out of his misery when the time came. A.J. had no intentions of killing Eugene, but he agreed to visit him regularly. The rekindled friendship brings up old memories, both good and bad. As he aids, supports, comforts and helps Eugene find the redemption he is seeking through his last days, A.J. is forced to reconsider his beliefs and look at what truly makes him feel whole and happy.
When bad things happen to Southerners, they don’t lose their sense of humor. You are never truly defeated so long as you don’t stop laughing at yourself. Atkins breathes life into this world. He writes of A.J. and Eugene’s lives with an easy sarcastic wit that is authentically Southern. A.J. and Eugene are not the only characters in Sequoya, either. The signs displayed in the window of the town’s only restaurant that is owned by a born again Christian are hilarious and ingenious. By far, my favorite feature of this novel were the snippets of the letters Eugene wrote and sent out to the people of Sequoya after his death. They appear at the beginning of each chapter, but they reflect back up the previous chapter. His letter to the town sheriff still has chuckling when I think about it. As it is, is I quickly lost count of the times I laughed out loud while reading this novel.
As much as I loved the books humor, what stays with me from The Front Porch Prophet is its message about the enduring power of friendship and forgiveness. It made me happy to be human. For all of our weaknesses, we have the ability to overcome them and make them right. This is a novel I will be reading again many times. It promises to hold something new each time I read it. This may very well be my favorite novel of 2008. I can’t recommend it enough.
Have you read this novel? I’d love to hear what you think.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: 18th Centry America, book review, Christine Blevins, colonial America, evil eye, fiction, Historical Fiction, indentured servants, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, midwifery, Scotland, Shawanee, tobacco, Virginia, Viriginia Colony
Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins
Maggie Duncan lost her family as a very young girl during a massacre between the British and the Scottish. Her destiny falls into place when she helps a injured man find his way home to his wife, Hannah. Hannah, a midwife and local healer, realizes almost instantly that her husband’s gangrene will end his life. Childless, she sees Maggie’s arrival as the blessing to bloom from her husband’s death. She takes Maggie under her wings and teaches her healing and midwifery. Unfortunately, the little Scottish town in which they live is superstitious. They think that Maggie is bad luck given what happened to her parents. They believe she possesses the powers of the evil eye. When Hannah gets sick with consumption, she gives Maggie one last gift before she dies – she plants the seed about going to the America. After Hannah’s death, Maggie is living hand to mouth. When she’s offered the opportunity to sale to America at the cost of spending four years as an indentured servant, Hannah’s words come back to her and she travels to find her destiny in the New World.
The Midwife of the Blue Ridge is an engaging novel about the joys, struggles, and courage of those who took the risk of leaving their home land in order to make their own way in Virginia. From the very beginning, America was seen as a land of opportunity to those whose futures in their home countries was set from the moment of their conception. It says a great deal that people would knowingly agree to four years of indentured service under unknown masters in order to have a shot at creating their own fortunes and secure their own land. Christine Blevins brings this all to life through Maggie, Seth Martin and Tom Roberts. Just as vividly, Blevins writes of those who were forced to go to the New World by their privileged and wealthy families found them to be an embarrassment best kept an ocean away. Their resentment over their circumstances colored their view of this new land and how they treated other people. In the Colonial Virginia painted in this novel, it is a toss up as to who was more savage, the Shawnee warriors or the disgraced lords of England.
Maggie Duncan is one of the most delightful heroines I’ve encountered in a long time. Although her accent was difficult for me to catch on to at first, I was soon caught up in the story of this clever, sassy, and giving young woman. The very scrappiness that was viewed suspiciously by her Scottish kinsmen was what kept her safe and gave her the advantage she needed to get off to a good start as Seth’s servant. She endeared herself to Seth, Naomi and their children by her generous spirit and her strong work ethic. Her sarcastic spunkiness endeared her to almost every single man she encountered. I admired her optimistic yet pragmatic attitude toward life and the courage she displayed under the most stressful conditions found in the Virginia wilderness. I enjoyed every minute I spent with her and hope that my daughters growing up in the Blue Ridge of Virginia four centuries later will develop her same strength of character.
Over the past couple of years I’ve read a great deal of wonderful historical fiction. For the most part, I’ve shied away from historical fiction set in my own country. I have read The Winthrop Woman and Devil Water by Anya Seton and, while they were both novels I enjoyed, they did not ignite in me the same excitement for my country’s history that Midwife of the Blue Ridge has. Colonial America, just like Tudor England and Venice has its own charms and dangers to explore. After reading Blevins’ novel, I am looking forward to spending some more time at home.
Christine Blevins was kind enough to send me two copies of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, but that’s not all. She also sent some wonderful smelling goodies! If you would like a chance to win your own copy of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, a bar of handmade lavender soap and a bag of tea leaves, please leave a comment below about your favorite heroine or your favorite destination when you read historical fiction by 11:59pm EST on Monday, November 24. I’ll take all the entries and add them to the List Randomizer. The first name in the list will win the grand prize. The last name in the list will also win a bag of tea leaves. Based on the way the tea leaves smell, they will make a wonderful and relaxing cup of hot goodness during the winter. The winners will be announced by noon EST on the 25th. Good luck!
To buy this novel on Amazon.com, click here.
Tags: Andy Kaufman, artists and addiction, connection between artists and self-destruction, Genius and Heroin, Kurt Cobain, L.M. Montgomery, Michael Largo, self-destructive behavior of the rich and famous
Earlier this fall we learned that author L.M. Montgomery committed suicide. Previously, her family did not release this information. It was only when her granddaughter felt that the truth should be known that this was publicized. Although I’ve not read much of Montgomery’s work, it saddened me that she, like so many other artists, had a mental illness that could not be taken care of in any other way. Just a month later, I received a copy of Genius and Heroin, a book that explores how artists and creative people of all types have been done in by their mental illnesses, addictions, and excessive behaviors. From the moment it arrived, I could not put it down.
Michael Largo organized Genius and Heroin in alphabetical order by the artists’ last names. For each individual, there is a brief biographical sketch that describes them as people and attempts to explain how the mental illness, addiction, or over-indulgent behavior became a part of their lives. There is a great deal of information about each individual, yet interspersed between biographies there are often sections that talk about a specific predilection for death in generally, but in more detail. For example, after discussing Andy Kaufman, Largo wrote a section about faking death. Although I found the stories about each person fascinating, it was those generalized sections that really made the book for me. Truly, these people lived and died in the spotlight, but their Achilles heals by no means made them unique. They are a part of the human condition to which all people are susceptible.
Modern society is drawn to the sensational. As technology makes access to what’s happening closer and closer to our fingertips, tragedies become water cooler discussion almost instantaneously. What the rich and the famous do today is already tomorrow’s hottest trend. Speculation is quickly fact while the actual truth, when it is uncovered, is buried because we’re already focused on the next rumor. I honestly admit to following pop culture and entertainment “news.” The idea of this book initially tweaked the interest of that part of me that I wish was less pervasive. Largo, however, did not write this book simply to cater to this cultural fascination. He quickly dispels the notion that there is anything glamorous about these people or what they ultimately did to themselves.
There is no genuflection or chest-thumping mea culpas before the altar of artists. From my 20 year stint at “field research,” as it was for those in this book, I found it difficult to start once started, and ultimately acquired an unsympathetic outlook toward any preconceived romanticism attached to dying and self-destruction. To create remains noble; to kill oneself while doing it – questionable, at best.
Far from backing up the romantic notions people have about being famous or being an artist, this book reads almost like a cautionary tale for anyone interested in such pursuits. Although Kurt Cobain is featured on the front cover, you will not find adulation here. Largo just provides an honest look at where Cobain’s talent took him and the mess made by his self-destructive streak. Largo doesn’t hold a candle for a single one of his subjects.
Genius and Heroin is a well written and well executed book. Clearly the author has invested a lot time and research. Largo does not glamorize the famously self-destructive, but this book is by no means a sermon against the seven deadly sins and stardom either. What kept me reading was that the stories are coupled with a wry sense of humor and illustrations to match. The combination of its subject matter and its structure makes this book is incredibly readable. It can be read from cover to cover, by skipping from individual by individual, or even read aloud within a group without lessening the experience. This book would make an excellent gift this holiday season that is sure to generate a great deal of conversation.
To buy this book, click here.
Tags: alchemy, child prostitution, Florence, Giotto, Immortal, immortality, Leonardo da Vinci, Literate Housewives Book Club, Medici, The Literate Housewives' Book Club, the plague, Traci L. Slatton
Immortal by Traci L. Slatton
Immortal is a novel that sweeps through 150 years of Florentine history from Giotto to Leonardo da Vinci through the eyes of Luca Bastardo, whose first memories are of living in the street seemingly as an orphan. What makes Luca different is that he does not perceptively age. His long life did not start out pleasantly. While living on the streets, he made a couple of friends. His best friend ultimately sold him to a brothel owner who specialized in pedaling the flesh of young children. The only way he survived over twenty years of sexual abuse was by traveling to the gorgeous churches around Florence and through his friendship with Gioto. When Luca won his freedom from prostitution created a generations long family long vendetta against him. The discovery of alchemy, his talent for medicine and the search for his true love are what give him purpose as he keeps one step ahead of the those who want to destroy him.
This is not an easy novel to read. The scenes at the brothel and with Luca dealing with the plague were grueling. For me, the hardest parts weren’t the most emotionally difficult, but were those dealing heavily with alchemy and with Leonardo da Vinci. Alchemy most definitely had its place in this novel. Without it, Luca would never have foreseen and chose love over immortality. Luca’s dream of creating gold, however, felt hollow to me. I liked the way that played out, but that didn’t change my opinion that his interest in it was half-hearted. I also found Leonardo a difficult character to enjoy. He was much more than a precociuos child. I found his questions much too pointed and advanced for his age, even if he was a genious. Because of this, his character felt like a tool needed to move Luca along.
I finished this book over two weeks ago, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It was a book that felt as long as its 528 pages. The ending was amazing. It was a tremendous payoff. This wouldn’t have been dampened at all had the novel been pared down. At the same time, I was left wanting more information about the time Luca spent exiled from Florence. Despite my own ambivilence, this novel would be interesting to those who enjoy reading about Florence, art, and the Medici family. Luca’s view of the city as it changed so drastically over his lifetime and certainly provides a unique view of the city.
The best part about reading this novel was discussing it with those of you who joined The Literate Housewive’s Book Club! I enjoyed reading your posts and your reviews. If you haven’t been back in a while, please post your review there so I can compile all of the reviews for the newsletter. I’ve also posted a call for suggestions for the next book. I’m really looking forward to doing this again.
To buy this book, click here.
Tags: Erika Mailman, Literate Housewife Spotlight, October Spotlight, The Witch's Trinity, win a free book
This is the second week for The Literate Housewife October Spotlight featuring The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman. In case you missed the original post, click here.
Today we are talking about the contests. Yes, contests. Erika has graciously offered to provide three copies of the new and awesome (if I do say so myself) paperback version of her novel. So, I’ve decided to get a little creative. There will be three contests, so there will be three chances to win a copy for yourself.
In addition to entering one, two, or all of the contests, you can increase your chances by referring others to this contest via your blog or in email. If you post a link to this page on your blog (It can be in another post. It doesn’t have to be the subject of a post.), I’ll enter you two additional times into each of the contests you’ve entered. The same goes if you send an email to 3 or more of your friends. Just copy me and I’ll add to your entries.
Okay, here are the contests:
Just Enter Me Already
The Just Enter Me Already contest is for those who just want a shot at a free copy of The Witch’s Trinity without having to do anything more than leave a comment to this post between now and October 17, 2008. Simple enough? Leave a comment saying “Just enter me already.” and you’re good to go. The winner will be announced on Saturday, October 18.
What’s Witchcraft Got To Do With It
The What’s Witchcraft Got To Do With It contest is for those who like to right and have something to say about human history and how it has been shaped by witch trials. In 250 words or less, answer one of the following questions:
A. Why do you think it’s important to discuss and remember the witch trials that have taken place around the world?
B. Did you get nightmares from reading The Crucible? Do you, like the author, have relatives who were involved in trials themselves? Tell us how witchcraft or witch trials has impacted your life.
C. What is the most interesting or important thing you’ve learned about witchcraft of the use of witch trials throughout history?
Send your entry to me via email to literatehousewife (at) gmail (dot) com on or before Thursday, October 17. I will post the entries on my blog on Friday, October 18 along with a poll. In this situation if you posted about these contests or sent out an email, I will add two votes to your total. The winner will be the person whose essay has the most votes at the time the poll closes. The winner will be announced on Friday, October 24.
Not On My Watch
The Not On My Watch contest is for those who like to get a little creative. Send in a picture to literatehousewife (at) gmail (dot) com that illustrates what you would do to stop/prevent/protest witch trials if you lived in a time and place where they were taking place. Those pictures need to be submitted on or before Thursday, October 30. I will post them on Friday, October 31 along with a poll. Again, if you posted about these contests or sent out an email, I will add two votes to your total. The winner will be the person whose essay has the most votes at the time the poll closes. The winner will be announced on Monday, November 3.
I Don’t Want To Wait
If you don’t want to wait on any of these contests to get your own copy of The Witch’s Trinity to read, click here to buy the hard cover version from Amazon, or here for the new paperback edition from Barnes and Noble.