Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas

Keeper of Secrets

The turbulent past of WWII Germany and near present  day mid-west USA come to life under the pen of Julie Thomas. A beautifully written book about a passion for music – specifically about a Guarneri  del Gesu‘  violin and the Horowitz family who loved and cherished it and the horror visited upon the family during the Nazi regime.

It is a story that tells of fathers and sons, a gift of music, the joy of an instrument that has a unique, distinctive history as well as a distinguished, valuable and unique pedigree.  It is a story of lost and found and the boys and men who claim this valuable violin as their own.

It is also the story of young Daniel Horowitz who longs to be like his other friends and play baseball rather than spend time with his violin. A gifted musician he decides quit playing. The book centers on a maestro’s search to bring music back to Daniel’s heart and convince him to play. How this search impacts Daniel’s entire family is the central theme of the book.

A beautiful story and a compelling read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blood and Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty is the Borgia's as only historical fiction writer Sarah Dunant can capture them in all their majesty and glorious infamy. From the passionate Spanish Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia also known as Pope Alexander VI,(who isn't anything like Showtime's svelte Jeremy Irons), to son Cesare - the unwilling churchman and soon to be youngest Cardinal, to the innocent  Lucrezia who will be offered as a marital prize and of course the Pope's favorite son - the hard fighting, carouser  Juan. Rome is a place of intrigue, where Cardinals cavort openly with their mistresses, the Vatican isn't just a church it is more a den of vipers where the competition is to get rich, grab power, make allies and get rid of your enemies - one way or another. 

Italy in the Renaissance was  not as it is today - it was ruled by families who oversaw great wealth in their city/states - Florence, Naples, Milan, etc. It was a constant struggle for power and dominance. And into the mix the Spanish Cardinal began his rule as Pope - pressing forward his family (illegitimate though his children were - his elevation as Pope made them acceptable marriage partners in many eyes as favors were often needed from the the Mother-Church where Alexander VI now ruled). 

I'm a big fan of Sarah Dunant's writing so I was pleased to receive this early reviewer's copy of her book. It is  interesting and tended to be much less shocking than previous books I've read about the Borgias'. It humanized them and brought life to the often  cardboard villains they have been at the hands of lesser writers. I have to admit in my mind, however, even though her physical descriptions of the Borgias' were different, in my head, the actor's from the Showtime series still managed to stick in my head. Guess I am ready for Season 3. 

I hope that Dunant plans a follow up to this book since there are so many things that she couldn't cover about them in this book. Her writing makes you want to keep reading - so here is my plea - please write a sequel! This is one of those families that cries out for their story to be told with all the historical facts woven into a story for reader's of fiction. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SALT SUGAR FAT... A Book for Food Lovers

Saw the author Michael Moss, on Dr. Oz's TV show and then I picked up the book. Fascinating read about food companies and their work to entice our mouths (and brains) to find the "bliss" points of junk foods and basically cause us to become addicted to them. Oreos anyone?

A major simplification for a fascinating and scientific look at the industry, the marketing and the consumer science behind America's obesity epidemic. Well worth the read. Entertaining and educational! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Temple Of A Thousand Faces

In a peaceable jungle kingdom, a kind and gentle prince interested in the arts and  architecture is looking to a future building roads and hospitals for his people.  He is in love with his barren chief wife and besotted with his children. The fairytale Khmer Empire by the river with its main city Angkor is filled with the beauty of Angkor Wat – a temple of majesty and spiritual significance for both Hindus and Buddhists. But the quiet and beauty is about to be broken during 1177 when the Cham King invades Angkor killing the old King and forcing the prince and his beloved wife to make the jungle their base as they struggle to retake their home.

Temple of a Thousand Faces, was written by John Shors who is known for his historical fiction and for telling stories that engage both the heart and mind of the reader. This novel is no exception – one is quickly immersed in the book with the lush jungle, the sound of elephants, the fear of the Khmers’ when they are attacked, and the threat to the beauty and sanctity of the city.

But it is the characters that enthrall the reader, Prince Jayavar who too soon becomes King after a series of tragedies, his loving and fierce wife Ajadevi and their mortal enemy the invading Cham King Indravarman.  It is also the story of the power of love – between a captured Khmer beauty and her captor a favored soldier of King Indravarman. When the soldier sees the difference between the Khmer people and the Chams he begins to doubt the greed, inhumanity and terrorism of the Cham King – where his loyalty lies becomes a unique cornerstone of the book.

Another great read from John Shors and the chance to learn about Angor Wat, a now vanished civilization and what is currently present day Cambodia. 

Afrika Reich

The Nazi swastika is flying over much of Africa in this thriller set in 1952 – ten years after England settled WWII peacefully with Hitler. Written by first time novelist Guy Saville, the book runs the gamut of “ifs” including a reimagined Africa – where colonialism is once again the norm and the indigenous population is basically enslaved by the Nazi/SS hierarchy.

Throw in rebels trying to save their country, an Englishman trying to kill his nemesis who is now a Governor of the German-Afrikan territories and you have the setting for a political thriller/action/adventure and fast paced alternative reality page-turner!

Some of it is a little hard to believe (how does our Brit always overcome any obstacle it seems – is it the thought of true love?) The Germans seem very stereotypical (all brutish thugs with no redeeming characteristics – you can draw your own conclusions).

It’s a fun romp but there are not enough answers to so many questions that you are left pondering.  Why did the British settle the war? How did it come down to this – before you can really appreciate the story as it unfolds. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharon McCrumb

You've heard the Kingston Trio's song, "hang down your head, Tom Dooley... " and I'd have been happy to never have known any more than that about this terrible saga. But, Sharon McCrumb an excellent writer and researcher takes so many unlikeable characters (real people unfortunately) and they end up in this sad, horrible, true story that played out in the hills of North Carolina after the Civil War. 

Tom Dula, is a ne'er-do-well and the women in this book make him look ready for sainthood. 
It's a mountain mystery that McCrumb writes about and Tom Dula may have been hanged for a crime he never committed. He also may have written his own ballad!

While I had a hard time liking any of the folks in the book - you have to admire the style or the author and her prose. A new take an an old legend.

A Rose By Any Name

The Perfect Gift Book

A lovely book to share with any rose lover on your gift list. Perfect for that special Valentine - especially with some favorite roses too.  

Ever wonder how or why a rose is named? Why certain people (who are "they" anyway?) have roses named for them? What the history behind your favorite rose might be? Well the historical and cultural trivia is packed in this little book - fun for gardeners, trivia buffs and anyone who loves roses!

The Painted Girls

You can marvel at her face, the strength of purpose in  her ballerina stance, the thin legs, the pride of her upturned face and the arched discomfort from holding her hands behind her back.  Marie  Van Goethem was only 14, a “le petit rat,” of the Paris Opera and a working class child of truly humble origin when she posed for Impressionist Edgar Degas.  Her story and that of her sisters in the late 1870’s is told by historical novelist Cathy Marie Buchannan in THE PAINTED GIRLS, a rare look at a poor family of Paris and the daughters who flee to the Paris Opera House for ballet training and perhaps as adornments to men who wait in the wings.

The author does a superb job of telling the story of empty cupboards and lonely hearts, broken promises and broken hearts, fear and joy, reaching for a life just beyond the touch of the young girls, redemption and forgiveness. She also paints a Paris of the 18778-1895 rich in spectacle; famous men, art and science (well, this is arguable), and still the poor endure as always with little change in their day-to-day lives.

Three sisters, an absinthe addicted Mother, the Paris Opera, a murder trial, a kind baker, a secret lover, and Degas all are part of the novel that will keep a reader turning pages to discover more about Marie and her true life story.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The House Girl

Artistic talent and skill are gifts given to chosen people and are not based on skin color or social standing as the historical novel HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin so beautifully illustrates.

 Josephine is a Virginia tobacco plantation slave who dreams of freedom, while in contemporary times Lina Sparrow an attorney, and daughter of an artist is beginning work on a slave reparations case.

As these two lives separated by time and sorrow merge; the story of Josephine and her mistress
Lu Anne Bell a famous artist begins to unravel – who is the truly gifted painter – was it really the young slave girl? As Lina researches Josephine’s story she learns many truths about herself, slavery, art and life.

A beautifully written book that combines historical facts such as the Underground Railroad along with rich details about plantation life for both slave and master. It is at heart a story of women reaching for more – wanting more and looking for their places in life – while trying to understand who they really are and what freedom actually means.

Author Conklin writes a seamless narrative of two worlds separated by hundreds of years that provide the reader with a depth of emotion that will linger long after the last page is read.