Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Thrills: Recommended New Books

Looking for just the right new book for that last minute summer reading?  Here are a few recommendations from the newest releases:

 If you like historical novels and have a particular interest in the 
Salem witchcraft trials  then  pick  up  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,**** by Katherine Howe.  Travel from 
present day New England  a Harvard grad student as she searches through her family history  for a mysterious manuscript  tied to the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. Will she reach academic nirvana and discover a new twist on history?

You can never go wrong with the "Sigma Force specialists" from the
 creative mind of David Rollins. His latest  "The Doomsday Key,***1/2" provides his usual dose  of adventure along with the oddest and most intriguing bits of history. I hesitate to give anything away, but suffice it to say that if you have read any of Rollins's previous books you will enjoy this one - it does start a wee bit slow, but hang on for a
 rewarding romp through bogs,  bees and prophecy.

BURNED**** was inspired by the  true life kidnapping of Australian Yvonne Bornstein by terrorists linked to Al Queda.  Like the real kidnapping the story takes place in Russia. The novel   begins with  a marriage on the rocks, a  business deal gone terribly wrong that results in  the kidnapping of an American businesswoman, murder, torture,  and a  planned nuclear attack on the US that the requested ransom will fund in addition to a  cast of desperate sociopathic kidnappers. In the mix add a grieving Russian policeman who splits his time between the bottle and  the investigation (but who manages to be a heroic figure nonetheless)  a CIA, Washington D.C. based desk jockey who  is looking for a promotion and a brave kidnapped,  woman who refuses to be a victim. 

David Hagberg's book is one of the best reads of the summer. He is also the author of   the popular thrillers featuring  action hero, former CIA director and all around good guy "Kirk McGarvey." Two of my personal " McGarvey" favorites are  THE EXPEDITOR**** and ALLAH'S SCORPION, **** both worth picking up at a bookstore or library. You can count on good writing and good reading with Hagberg.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sacred Hearts

Serafina, the new novice and unwilling bride of Christ has the voice of an angel and seems to be God’s gift to the Convent of Santa Caterina. But she is locked up behind the walls and separated from her one true love because her parents cannot afford to dower more than one daughter. Similar fates are shared by other young aristocratic Italian women of the mid-1500’s as costly marriage contracts leave few options for the bride’s female siblings. When the parental purse runs dry the phrase “get thee to a nunnery,” takes on a sinister meaning and Serafina becomes a sacrificial offering to the Catholic Church.

Sarah Dunant’s latest work of historical fiction provides a glimpse behind convent walls where women of God play political games as readily as they pray. Power figures in the cloister include a sister who may be a saint, the abbess leading her flock for  God’s glory, the fundamentalist novice mistress, and the vocally gifted Serafina. The most interesting character by far is Sister Zuana (her father was a famous physician - she has hidden his books to use for reference – some books that perhaps include heresy) the nun tasked with caring for the sick. 

When Serafina assists in the infirmary Sister Zuana learns more about the novice’s tragic but all too familiar story. The older nun has a crisis of conscious as she begins to understand and care for the younger sister.

Serafina, the heavenly songbird exposes tears and divisions within the walls of the religious community. While her voice brings acclaim beyond the walls of the convent it is outside these same walls that changes within the Catholic Church threaten the sisters of Santa Caterina and their established way of life. 

Rich in both historical context and plot SACRED HEARTS offers readers a glimpse behind convent walls and into women’s hearts as some walk their freely chosen path with God while others are sacrificial Brides of Christ. Birth into Italian aristocracy during the 1500’s mandated a marital dowry. If the price for more than one daughter became prohibitive, families merely sent the other daughter(s) to the Church.  Christ’s bride price was much less expensive to the familial purse. Dunant’s book is a thought provoking study in the choices families make about their children; the strength,  blindness, fragility and healing power of faith; and the complexity found in female relationships.