A well-researched piece of historical fiction. Unless you are cold stone hearted dead, this work will definitely have an emotional impact.I’m not sure how men will receive it, but most 21st century women will finish the book, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and send prayers or thoughts to whatever supreme deity is in their lives with thanks that they did not have to live through anything like this. The story line is fairly straightforward: In 16th century Italy, the bride price (or dowry) for women had gotten so high that families could only afford to marry off one daughter. The rest were consigned to convents –along with whatever endowment the family could give to the abbess to take care of the unfortunate girl for the rest of her life. The life was one of almost complete silence, little if any contact with relatives on "the outside" (all letters were read by a censor before the recipient was perhaps allowed to receive it), plain food, lots of fasting, and life regulated in every aspect by the observance of the liturgical hours (starting at 2:00am with Martins).Some women welcomed this life—especially if the alternative was to marry some man not to her liking—others were literally dragged (drugged?) into the convents totally against their wills. Sacred Hearts is the story of Isabetta, a young girl who wanted to marry her music teacher, but who was instead dispatched to the convent of Santa Catarina. The Abbess is keen to have her since she reputedly has an angelic voice, and the convent choir’s performances for the towns people and the surrounding countryside bring much needed patronage and money for the Abbey. Once inside, we meet the stern, uber rule enforcing novice mistress, Umiliana; the wise, crafty, and holy abbess Madonna Chiara; the dispensary mistress Zuana, and several anorexic (in those days they were called holy mystics) ancient dying sisters fasting and waiting to meet Christ. Isabetta, renamed Serafina, immediately sets the convent on end by such loud screaming her first night that Chiara sends Zuana to calm her down.Zuana herself had come to the convent reluctantly 16 years priorThe daughter of a prominent widowed doctor, who taught her everything he know about medicine and herbs, she was not considered marriage material (no man would want a woman so smart!) and with no large dowry or estate, she was sent to the abbey to live. Seeing much of herself in the young novice, Zuana befriends Serafina, (having to drug her first to calm her down) and convinces the abbess to assign Serafina to work in the herb garden and dispensary with her. At this point, the plot twists begin. The book is to be published next week, and I urge you to get a copy. This is a superbly written story of young love, betrayal, mistreatment of women, women bonding with other women, and the horrible, horrible treatment of women by the Italian society of the day. While it is the story of the helplessness of women on the one hand, I must point out (with as little spoiler as possible) that it is also the story of the courageousness, talent, and cunning of women who solve problems themselves. Many thanks to Random House for making the review copy available. It would make a wonderful book discussion group read.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
The Constitution was two years old and the United States was in serious danger. Bitter political rivalry between former allies and two surging issues that inflamed the nation led to grim talk of breaking up the union. Then a single great evening achieved compromises that led to America's great expansion. This book celebrates Thomas Jefferson and his two guests, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and the meal that saved the republic. In Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's, you'll discover the little-known story behind this pivotal evening in American history, complete with wine lists, recipes, and more.I was frankly disappointed in this book...very little about the dinner when Jefferson was Secretary of State for Washington...lots of politics, lots of conjecture on the part of the author, references to more well known and respected authors such as David McCullough, but if you're looking for a book about dinner, and wine and recipes, this isn't it. It does give an easy to understand description of some of the struggles Washington went through with his cabinet; the "two surging issues" referred to in the book blurb were the formation of a National Bank, and the designation of Washington D.C. as the nation's capital; it discusses Jefferson' differences with Hamilton; it paints Hamilton as a brilliant politician well loved by Washington; it drops in glimpses of Madison, and Henry Knox, but if it's history you're after, this isn't it either. If you have limited reading time, this wouldn't be a book I'd recommend spending it reading.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Literary Blogger Award acknowledges bloggers who energize & inspire reading by going the extra mile. These amazing bloggers make reading fun & enhance the delight of reading!!What I like most about receiving these nominations is that now I can bestow them on other bloggers. Both with this and the True Fairy Tale award, I'm going to wait a few days and look around before choosing my nominees. Once again thanks to all Tutu's faithful readers, and welcome to new ones. I hope you will continue to find dreamy reading, musings and other wish fulfillment here well blended with literary excellence. (blushing at previous typos now corrected) I'm having fun and I hope you are too.
- At least one book in my currently reading is always an audio book. I listen in the car (I have an hour round trip to the pool everyday to work out)--this week it's Dinner at Mr Jefferson's. This one hopefully will get finished today.
- One is usually a non-fiction work that requires some time and thought--today that's American Lion, the biography of Andrew Jackson, by Jon Meacham. Very good, a Pulitzer, and emminently readable for such a meaty subject.
- One is usually something else that can be done in short bursts, such as poetry, or short stories, or books written as Letters. Today it's The Food of Portugal, a cook book I'm leisurely going through for my "Things Portuguese" category in the 999 read on LT.
- The last is a novel or some fictional work. Today it's Sacred Hearts which I got as an Advanced Reading copy. (The Jackson bio is also an Early Review copy from LT).
Friday, June 26, 2009
A Tale of two Shakespeares... Struggling UC Santa Cruz grad student Willie Shakespeare Greenberg is trying to write his thesis about the Bard. Kind of... Cut off by his father for laziness, and desperate for dough, Willie agrees to deliver a single giant, psychedelic mushroom to a mysterious collector, making himself an unwitting target in Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs. Meanwhile, would-be playwright (and oppressed Catholic) William Shakespeare is eighteen years old and stuck teaching Latin in the boondocks of Stratford-upon-Avon. The future Bard's life is turned upside down when a stranger entrusts him with a sacred relic from Rome... This, at a time when adherents of the "Old Faith" are being hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors. Seemingly separated in time and place, the lives of Willie and William begin to intersect in curious ways, from harrowing encounters with the law (and a few ex-girlfriends) to dubious experiments with mind-altering substances. Their misadventures could be dismissed as youthful folly. But wise or foolish, the bold choices they make will shape not only the 'Shakespeare' each is destined to come... but the very course of history itself.I read Off Season last year, and found it different from earlier Siddons books, but the Maine and DC settings are both familiar and therefore attractive to me, and the plot twists and turns were quite breathtaking. Even the ending was different from what I've come to expect from Siddons. If you're a fan of lost love, Maine beaches, and introspective, thought-provoking prose, you'll love this one. So...........how to win. Here are the rules: For each book you want to win, leave a separate comment below. and tell me which book you want to win in each entry. Please make sure to leave your e-mail address if not visible in your blogger profile. (if you're worried about spam, you can leave the address as yourname (at)whatever (dot)com.) You don't have to have a blog to enter, but I have to have a way to get in touch with you off post. For extra entries, you can do one or all of the following - please leave a separate comment for each:
- Follow my blog (see "Followers" in the left sidebar) or tell me if you're already a follower.
- Subscribe to my feed (see subscribe button at the bottom);
- Blog about this giveaway(sidebars OK) linking to this post and send me a link to your post.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
As you know, I'm not usually a fan of books featuring horror, zombies, cults, or voodoo, but this was an audio ARC I received from Hachette, and I went into it with an open mind. This was also the first book I'd read by this duo. It was an enjoyable story and the reading by Rene Auberjonois was fantastic. Each chapter was like a mini-story, each character was interesting, sometimes annoying, but always intriguing. You knew bad things were going to happen, but you were never quite sure what, or who was going to be involved. Warning: there are SOME SPOILERS here.
I assume from the book jacket that the two main characters, as well as the first victim, have been around for previous volumes in the series. Detective D'Agosta's rough edges were the perfect foil for Special Agent Prendergast's refined manner. I did find myself wondering how these two got together and what the history was (what FBI agent can afford a chaffeured Rolls Royce?), so I would not recommend this book without reading others in the series first. I especially liked Prendergast's language: his sentences and vocabulary were luxurious without being pompous.
The story concerns a murder where eye-witnesses swear the killer was someone who was already dead and buried. Later the first victim is seen to be the murderer of another woman …again committed in front of a room full of witnesses.
Add a cult of celibates who practice animal sacrifice living on an abandoned estate in the middle of a park in New York City. Add an obnoxious art collector/business man who uses his money and his lawyers to thumb his nose at authority.
There's the bumbling police commander (why do all these detective books these days show the top guys as less than competent?), and some other characters who obviously played some important part in Prendergast's past but we're left wondering what that past was.
I found the women in the story rather underwritten. On the one hand, there's Laura Hayward, a police Captain who doesn't seem to have anything to do but play the love interest for D'Agosta, until she does a 'wonder-woman' to try to rescue him. Then there's Nora Kelley, wife of the first victim in the story, who tries to stay out of the way, but who manages to become entangled. I really didn't like her too much from the first. Why would any woman leave her apartment in New York at midnite after a lovely 1st anniversary dinner to go pick up a cake at the bakery????? She couldn't have picked it up on her way home from work???? Or had it delivered???? And then it really stretched my imagination that as an archaeological expert who works with pottery shards, she knew how to set up and run a DNA analyzer.
In spite of my questions about the characters, the plot kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole book. Even at the end, I was left wondering "what next?" I certainly will look for past and future books in this series, if for no other reason than to get some more perspective on the main characters.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.Building on the Favorite Reads theme on Alyce's blog: At Home with Books, this week's reverie is about what is probably one of my all-time favorites: Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. A posthumous Pulitzer winner featuring Ignatius Reilly and a wonderfully ditzy cast of characters, this story could only have been set in New Orleans. I love this book for so many reasons: the story, the characters, the setting, the richness of the text. Whenever I read it, I rejoice in the memory of one of my best friends, dead now almost 10 years. She lived across the street from me in Virginia, when I was a stay-at-home Mom with a very active 2 year old. She came over one day and invited me to join her in a book discussion group at the local library. I had recently finished library school, and found myself really wanting an adult book experience. We found a sitter, and every week went off to discuss Ignatius Reilly and his billious tummie, and laugh until we cried. I just took it off the shelf again and must quote from Walter Percy's wonderful foreword:Jonathan Swift-- "Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting"
Here..is Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of--slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one--who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom ....between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations, is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective. His mother thinks he needs a job..his girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff, of the Bronx, thinks he needs sex... I hesitate to use the word comedy--though comedy it is-because that implies simply a funny book..this is far more..a great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions would better describe it;Percy concludes, as the reader will, that this book is a tragedy also. The tragedy is that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide at the age of 32. This is the only work we have of this marvelously talented author. If you never read another Pulitzer, read this one. I know I have read it at least 5 times in the past 20 years, and it never ceases to satisfy me.
- Sacred Hearts Random House, pub date: July 14, 2009, 304 pgs
From Sarah Dunant, acclaimed author of the Birth of Venus and In the Company of Courtesans, comes an engrossing new novel set in a convent in Renaissance Italy where a defiant sixteen-year-old girl has just been confined against her will--for life.I can't wait to read this...it's next up after I finish three current reads: Dewey (for the 999 challenge Libraries category) , Lobster Chronicles (for 999- read again category), and Tall Tales (for 999-short stories).
- Evolution of God by Robert Wright; Little, Brown, pub date: Jun 8, 2009, 576 pgs
The New York Times Book Review calls it " A feast of great thinking and writing about the most profound issues there are...fiercely intelligent, beautifully written, and engrossingly original."I've had Karen Armstrong's History of God on my TBR pile (in fact I've started it twice) so I think I'll give this one a go and see how they compare. It's definitely going to take a few weeks to read it. So look for a review later this summer.
- Cemetery Dance, an Hachette Audio book by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, and read by Rene Auberjonois--13 hrs of listening.
Publisher's Weekly says: "Bestsellers Preston and Child kill off a regular supporting character at the outset of this suspenseful tale of urban terror, their ninth to feature FBI special agent Aloysius Pendergast (after The Wheel of Darkness). William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife, Nora Kelly, an anthropologist with the New York Museum of Natural History, are celebrating their first anniversary when Smithback is fatally stabbed in their Manhattan apartment, apparently by a creepy neighbor, Colin Fearing, an out-of-work British actor."I haven't read the previous books, but this sounds like one I can't wait to listen to. As soon as I finish Cutting with Stone, this is next on the audio list.
- The Night Gardener by George Pelecano; a Back Bay books reprint hot off the presses, 400 pgs.
From Amazon: "The haunting story of three cops:one good, one bad, one broken, and the murder that reunites them in a showdown decades in the making.... Gus Ramone is good police, a former Internal Affairs investigator now working homicide for the citys Violent Crime branch. His new case involves the death of a local teenager named Asa, whose body has been found in a community garden. The murder unearths intense memories of a case Ramone worked as a patrol cop 20 years earlier, when he and his partner, Dan Doc Holiday, assisted a legendary detective named T.C. Cook. The series of murders, all involving local teenage victims, was never solved. In the years since, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges. Cook has retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the Night Gardener killings. The new case draws the three men together, re-igniting the love, regret, and anger that once burned between them, and old ghosts walk once more as they try to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams."I may have to fight my husband (an aspiring crime writer) for this one. Seems he's had Pelecanos on his TBR list for quite awhile. I think he thought I got this for him for Father's Day. So...if I play my cards right, we could have a guest reviewer for this one.
- I'm waiting for at least 3 more I know are on the way, so I need to get cracking...
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
- Young children are disappearing from the town of Cambridge, and turning up later as skeletons showing evidence of unspeakable torture and death.
- In England at that time, money lending was illegal. Only Jews were allowed to lend money, so they were tolerated. However the Jews were accused of killing the children.
- Henry II, needing the Jews to keep his country solvent (no bishop could build a cathedral, no knight embark on a Crusade without borrowing) orders the entire Jewish population of the town into sanctuary within the castle walls. Still the killings continue.
- At this same time, the town of Salerno in Italy is turning out trained forensic scientists and doctors. Henry sends to his friend the King of Sicily for a "Doctor of Death" to solve the mystery of who is killing the children.
- Sicily sends its most noted Doctor of Death,Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, perhaps not realizing that in England, women who 'practice medicine' are more often seen as witches. Adelia is accompanied by Simon the Jew of Naples, and Mansur, a Saracen eunoch who acts as a bodyguard....a sort of medieval CSI team.