Thursday, February 26, 2015

City of God by Cecilia Holland

"Night had come. Nicholas Dawson, waiting on the stony shore of the Tiber, began to shiver in the cold. He tucked his hands into the folds of his coat and swayed a little from one foot to the other, and cast a look around him, from the river to the swampy meadow behind him, stinking of rot." 
Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  A self-serving political player in sixteenth-century Rome is caught up in the ruthless and powerful Borgia family’s deadly intrigues of murder and betrayal

It is known as the City of God—but Rome at the dawn of the sixteenth century is an unholy place where opulence, poverty, and decadence cohabitate sinfully under the ruthless rule of Rodrigo Borgia, the debauched Pope Alexander VI. Englishman Nicholas Dawson is secretary to the ineffectual ambassador of Florence and, as such, finds himself linked to Borgias’ murderous machinations, specifically the brutal power plays of the warlord Cesare, the pope’s bastard son. A skilled liar, conspirator, spy, and manipulator—a man drawn to power and the pleasures of excess—Dawson coolly plays his part in Rome’s draconian political dramas with an eye to personal gain and no true allegiance to any side or player. But his attraction to a beautiful and very dangerous young man soon threatens to bring Dawson’s secret enterprises crashing down around him, dooming him to a brutal and ignoble fate.
The great Cecelia Holland is acclaimed as one of America’s premier creators of historical fiction. With City of God she brings a remarkable epoch and a legendary family of scoundrels and murderers to breathtaking life—the corrupt patriarch pope; the suspiciously widowed and incestuous daughter, Lucrezia; Cesare, the bloodthirsty conqueror; and the tragically imprisoned and damned Caterina Sforza. Holland has written a stunning tale of betrayal, deception, and blood.

City of Gods is a suspensful novel set in Rome during the time the Borgia family rose to power. Nicholas Dawson is an assistant to the Ambassador of Florence. He is also a bit of an introvert, and gay. Through his work he becomes entangled with the dastardly man, the Duke of Valentino and the Borgia pope, Alexander. The novel is full of political machinations, intrigue, evil, and corruption. Most of the characters have a very dark side, making this one of Cecelia Holland's darkest novels yet. Despite all the wickedness and evil intent, Nicholas is a charasimatic characters who manages to weave through the despicableness of the Borgia reign. An interesting take of this fascinating era in history.

Mad Worlds by Bill Douglas

"In the night, John hears Da shouting, Ma cryng. He sees Dave - in the moonlight by the half-open door - poised, neck straining. He creeps from the bed to join his bruv in listening, but he can't make out what Da's shouting. He tiptoes back to bed." Opening Paragraph. 

Synopsis:  Young teacher John Chisholmis hanted by a past tragedy and, believing his wife no longer loves him, begins to experience a nervous breakdown. He is forcibly removed to Springwell, a harsh mental institution where he endures and witnesses abuse – some of this 'in the name of treatment' – and makes new, eccentric friends. He is certified and detained indefinitely. Although suicidal at times, he is determined to survive and escape. 

John’s wife Heather Chisholm, who has recently battled post-natal depression, is distraught. Left to care for their baby, she struggles to rally support from friends and family. Encountering John’s hostility on visiting him, and horrified at the conditions in which he is hopelessly trapped, she finds herself vulnerable to Sam Newman, an overworked Mental Health Officer instrumental in John’s detention. But he’s not the only one with his eye on her… 

Can Heather resist not only Sam, but also Sarge Parker, the sadistic and ambitious Charge Nurse who targets John for abuse? Will John ever escape the harsh environment in which he has been imprisoned? Will his relationship with Heather survive? And can Jamie Macdonald, the new Medical Superintendent, really transform Springwell into a caring community? 

Mad Worlds is a novel set in an era when England still operated under harsh, stigmatising Victorian legislation in the field of mental health. Readers are invited to eavesdrop on realistic scenarios, both within and outside a mental asylum of the 1950s. With flashes of dark humour, this is a curious, sometimes terrifying tale suitable for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in the issues of mental health, relationships and loss.

In 1950's England, mental illness was misunderstood. In Mad Worlds, author Bill Douglas delves deep into many of the philosophies and treatments asylum inmates were subjected to. The novel begins with a young teacher named John Chisholm whose emotional breakdown lands him in a mental institution. From there, things go from bad to worse. The story becomes dark, sometimes hopeless, sometimes shocking. It is a portrayal of a how miserable and difficult life could be for those who suffered from a mental illness. 

Amazon USA      Amazon Canada      Amazon UK

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

"Empress, we are ready for you." She turns, a small nod and a flourish of her hand. "Time to assume the role." She slips her arms through the sleeves. The silken fabric, expertly stitched and tailored, molds around her curves. My, but she has never quite grown accustomed to how heavy these things are. Heavier it seems, than her own tired frame." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Allison Patai follows up on her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead. Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world. With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, bewitching characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Hapsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”

I truly enjoy reading books by author Allison Pataki and this one was no exception. She strikes a wonderful balance between presenting historical descriptions and moving the story forward. The prose is always effortless and the story always interesting. Her depiction of Sisi is terrific. She is charismatic, vivacious, energetic, a woman who grips life and is not afraid. Slowly, Sisi evolves from a passionate woman deeply in love with her husband, to a sad young woman who feels abandoned due to the politics that pull her husband away, creating a vast distance between them. Her domineering mother-in-law is harsh, and one cannot feel bad for poor Sisi who does her best to walk a fine line between duty and personal freedoms. 

I enjoyed the tidbits of mystery, forbidden love, the passion Sisi had for horses and riding. I loved Franz Josef too, how he fell for Sisi, and how he over-ruled his mother to marry Sisi instead of her sister, the bride that had been chosen for him. The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki is one of the best historical fiction versions I have read about this fascinating woman's life. Beautifully rendered!

Amazon USA      Amazon Canada      Amazon UK

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far.

In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings.

Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?!

Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie.
I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well.

Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.

"Camille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night's rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor's garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mod the portrait of Eugenie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations." Opening Sentences. 

Rodin's Lover is a biographical novel about the life of French scuptor and artist, Camille Claudel. Despite her mother's interference, Camille's father arranged for her to study art in a time when women were banned from doing so. She came under the guidance of Auguste Rodin, and they soon fell in love and began an affair. After an unwanted abortion, Camille became paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, prone to outbursts. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital, but when doctors tried to release her, her mother intervened and insisted she be kept there. 

Set in France during the 1900's, Rodin's Lover is a comprehensive telling of a young woman who defied social norms and became a beloved sculptor. Like many biographical novels, the pace slows sometimes, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. The author portrayed Camille in a most sympathetic way, and I found her fascinating for her courage, dedication to her work, and willingness to learn. The author also did a thorough job of describing art techniques and the various historical characters in a very real, believable way. A lovely, but sad story. 

Amazon USA      Amazon Canada       Amazon UK

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella

"The Turnip and I have a history. Many decades ago, when he was a little boy and his folks were newly split, my sister left him with our parents and came to Memphis to live with me for a short while. It was only two months and just the medicine she needed, quite frankly, but he has held it against me ever since." Opening Sentences

Synopsis: A debut, coming-of-age novel in which a teenage girl from Philadelphia leaves her old life behind to become The Sweetheart, one of America’s most infamous female wrestlers. It’s 1953 and seventeen-year-oldLeonie Putzkammer is cartoonishly tall and curvaceous, destined to spend the rest of her life waiting tables and living with her widowed father, Franz, in their Philadelphia row house. Until the day legendary wrestling promoter Salvatore Costantini walks into the local diner and offers her the chance of a lifetime. Leonie sets off for Florida to train at Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling. There, she transforms into Gorgeous Gwen Davies, tag-team partner of legendary Screaming Mimi Hollander, and begins a romance with the soon-to-be Junior Heavyweight Champion Spider McGee. But when life as Gorgeous Gwen leaves her wanting, she orchestrates a move that will catapult her from heel to hero: she becomes The Sweetheart, a choice that attracts the fans she desires but complicates all of her relationships—with Franz, Joe, Spider, Mimi (who becomes her fiercest competitor), and even with herself. Angelina Mirabella’s surprising, affecting, and morally complex novel describes how a single decision can ripple through the lives of everyone around us. How Leonie sizes up the competition, how she triumphs, how she fails, and how she manages, somehow, to endure, holds promise: if she can, maybe we can, too. The Sweetheart showcases Mirabella’s breathtaking talent; it is daring, innovative, and powerful storytelling.

Review by Mirella Patzer

THE SWEETHEART is a very unique novel, not only due to the subject matter, but also because it is written in second person narrative. It's a coming of age story set in the 1950's where a gawky, awkward teenager is inadvertently drawn into the women's wrestling scene. It's a story about risk taking, self-confidence, and ambition. Most of all, it is about accepting yourself for who you are and for not being afraid to show it. This is fine women's fiction written in an unusual way, but that stirs plenty of emotion with a sprinking of humor and heartbreak along the way, 

Author Angelina Mirabella did an outstanding job of describing the wrestling matches, as well as the business side and all the politics that come with it. She did not shy away from the realities of the ring including the sustaining of injuries. Most of all, it is a love story. I found it easy to get wrapped up in the story which kept me entertained right up the satisfying ending. This is an excellent book to pick up if you like exploring different topics and clever writing styles. 

Amazon USA      Amazon Canada      Amazon UK

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

"Alessandra is dead. Sunday's edition should fly off the newstands, with the photos Giorgio shot, the stuff we discovered in Lombardi's diaries, the interviews we did with the Vatican and the police, the comments we've gathered from the rich and famous throughout Europe." Opening Paragraph.

Synopsis:  Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive, medim Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife, while earning praise from Kirkus Reviews as an "enchanting and graceful narrative that absorbs readers from the first page." 

Review by Mirella Patzer

When Tommaso Labella is given the opportunity to photograph the famous Neopolitan medium, Alessandra Poverelli, he never dreamed his photograph would stir such interest. That is because he snapped it while the table was levitating. Tommaso becomes intrigued and falls for the lovely woman who can raise the dead and who games fame with every passing day. 

The photograph and news of Alessandra's talent soon catches the attention of Camillo Lombardi, a scientist/psychiatrist who studies mediums. He makes Alessandra a rich offer to travel outside of Italy and undergo intensive testing. So Tommaso and Alessandra agree. News of this new medium reaches the ears of Nigel Huxley of England's Society for the Investigation of Mediums and he is bent on proving her false. This sets off an intriguing chain of events. 

The Witch of Napoli is based on the famous Italian medium, Eusapia Palladino. It is a rag to riches story about one woman with a rare talent who struggles to gain credibility in an ever doubtful field filled with numerous fraudsters and charlatans. I thoroughly enjoyed Alessandra who is strong and determined, unafraid to stand up for herself, yet still vulnerable to the tricks of men. 

This was nicely written in an effortless prose that made it easy to follow the story and allow the reader to immerse themselves completely. Michael Schmicker is a talented author and I look forward to reading more of his work. 

Amazon USA      Amazon Canada      Amazon UK

The homes from our most beloved classic books!

Wouldn't it be fascinating to see how the houses from our favourite literary classics look like? Well a company from the UK, Terry's Fabrics has done just that. How fascinating! Enjoy!

  Homes of Classic Literature by Terrys Fabrics
Homes of Classic Literature by Terrys Fabrics