Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran


In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption. – Crown

Opening Line: I am sure that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my childhood much earlier than six years old.

The Heretic Queen is a sequel to Nefertiti, however, you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one. Both stories can easily stand alone.

For those who love Ancient Egypt, with all its mysteries and brutalities, this novel will surely please. The gentle, unassuming prose lulls readers deep into the story, capturing interest and garnering suspense with each page turned. It is the story of a young, orphaned princess, shunned because of the sins of her ancestors, who faces adversity and achieves the highest rewards. Filled with palace intrigues, murder plots, greed, love, and desire, The Heretic Queen is sure to please. A highly recommended read!

A Hidden Legacy by Heather Garside

For most of his life, Matt Jones believed he was the uneducated son of kindly servants who work at Fenham Manor in England. But when he discovers they are not his true parents, and that he is the grandson of the lord of the manor who has always treated him with disdain, Matt sets off to Australia to search for his parents.

With little money, he is temporarily hired by his mother’s brother, a wealthy stockman who holds nothing but contempt for Matt’s father, a man of low rank who married his mother after getting her pregnant with Matt years before. From his uncle, he learns the whereabouts of his family’s ranch, complete with both parents and numerous siblings.

But acceptance into his new family and life becomes a struggle as Matt finds himself embroiled in sibling rivalry and an illicit love affair with Isabella, the daughter of a neighbouring stockman. Soon, Matt leaves Isabella for the gold fields to make his fortune. Unprepared for the harsh life of a gold miner, Matt soon finds himself in unfairly in trouble with the law. It is only then that he realizes the depth of his love for Isabella.

A HIDDEN LEGACY is more than a love story. It is a realistic family saga steeped with family secrets, scandals, and rich, twisting plot themes. Heather Garside has realistically recreated 19th century life in the harsh Australian countryside. Although it is the sequel to The Cornstalk, it easily stands alone.

Drawing on her own, real life experiences regarding her own life and work on an Australian ranch, Ms. Garside s has written a realistic, compelling novel about the lives of early settlers in Queensland. This is one of the best Australian novels I have encountered and highly recommend it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview With Paula Phelan

Thank you for joining me on the Historical Novel Review Blog, Paula.

1. How long have you been writing historical fiction, and is this genre your only foray into writing?

I began writing historical fiction in 2003. I was inspired after not being able to travel on a business trip to China due to SARs. I wanted to understand how the threat of a flu should stop one’s ability to do business as usual. I discovered that the 1918 flu epidemic had been a great example of under-reported history. This spurred me to uncover other facts, events, and people that had slipped through the cracks of time.

Historical fiction is only one of my writing outlets, as the CEO of a robust technology public relations firms in Silicon Valley, I write non-fiction daily including articles for management publications and technology journals. I have also written fictional short stories for adults and children.

2. What other eras are you interested in writing about, apart from early 20th century American history, which are the settings for your trilogy?

When I started on the road of historical discovery I decided I would write Ten-of-Nine. Ten books on a year that ended in nine, that would span three centuries the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries.

3. What made you choose such an unusual format for your novel, 1939-Into The Dark, and how did you come up with the template?

1939 was the first year I knew I would write about because of the great output of film and theatre in that year. In order to be able to provide commentary I created Alan Stipple a contemporary of the powerful critics of that day men and women who could make or break an artistic endeavour.

Nancy Ames, the African American reporter, is based on a real person who wrote for one of the negro papers in 1939 and spoke plainly about the atrocities in Europe and the implications for young black men who would be called up to serve.

4. I got the impression from the novel that the war correspondent was shouting at her readers, trying to get them to sit up and take notice, but no one was listening. It was a powerful premise. Was that what you intended?

Indeed, as an African American in the United States at that time Nancy Ames had the ability to recognize racism and its dangers. She, and other reporters like her, attempted to awaken the American public to what was going on. At the time the country was committed to neutrality, no one wanted another war. It had been twenty years since the First World War which was very unpopular when the citizens realized it was a war of economics not righting wrongs. The young men born when their fathers returned would be sent off if another war should occur.

5. What was your personal view of how American citizens regarded the outbreak of war in Europe, and did your own perspective form part of the story?

I had grown up believing people in the U.S. didn’t know, which proved not to be true. I asked individuals who were in their twenties at the time – why there wasn’t an outcry and the answer was poignant, “We were so worn down by the depression, excited by the glimmer of light that things could get better, that it was easier to say nothing. Besides what could one person do?”

And in truth how different is that from today? We all know about Dafur, however, feel powerless to do much besides send money.

6. I found myself waiting for the rest of the cast to fall in line with the premise that something had to be done about the atrocities being perpetrated on the Jewish community, but no one really did. As President Roosevelt held out until the end of 1941 before entering the war, was that a social comment?

Yes, there were a few people, the Roosevelts, Churchill and others who wanted to do something, however the sentiment was so strong toward neutrality these individuals were in the minority. What’s more there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in the U.S. at the time (which Nancy Ames reports on) another reason why Jewish Americans were afraid to speak up.
7. You leave the reader hanging – sort of – at the end as three characters sail off into the sunset with their own agendas. Is that to leave us with our own ending to the story, or do you hope to get across that those who are worth redeeming find their way?

The characters defined their own outcomes. I personally believe that life is an adventure and the more it can be faced pure of heart the greater the chances for success. In fact all three gentlemen make it back and appear in 1969 – The Dream of Aquarius as supporting characters.

8. In the UK, apart from being too caught up with our own survival, the consensus of opinion was that Americans didn’t know what went on in Europe. Your novel shows that news reports were readily available and that the apathy was voluntary. Is that what you were trying to say?

The apathy or unwillingness to engage is one of those ‘under-reported’ facts of history. In the U.S. we are told of our contributions to World War II, however, there is never any mention of our unwillingness to act until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

9. Now the more frivolous bit. What has been the biggest stumbling block in writing and getting your work published?

The biggest challenge for me was getting the novel published without allowing a publisher to significantly alter my work. I had a vision for how the novel would look and feel, and the first publisher I worked with wanted to turn it into a romance novel. After numerous historical characters were removed I finally drew the line when I was told to take out Ernest Hemingway because no one would know who he was. Needless to say, I didn’t end up working with that publisher.
10. What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I truly believe we can learn from history. Learn how to not to make the same mistakes. History taught in schools is packaged and polished to take off all the rough edges – it lacks the whys and personalities that brought us to this moment in time.

That is why I focused each book on one year, in order to not be overwhelmed and able to find the nuggets of under reported history and bring them to light.

To write historical fiction for me is to be part private investigator, part empathetic therapist, and mostly willing to be awed by what I don’t know and share what I learn with others in a way that entertains and inspires.
You have quite an unique view on your ambitions as a writer, Paula.many thanks for talking to me and may I wish you every success with 1939 Into The Dark

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1939-Into The Dark by Paula Phelan

The focus of Paula Phelan’s story, 1939 - Into the Dark, published by ZAP Media New York, takes place over a twelve month period with her characters interacting with famous names of the day in both New York Society's arts and entertainment world.

Set during the months before the declaration of war in Europe, Jason Rothman, is writing a play starring Carole Lombard which promises to be a huge success, but he is distracted by the events in Europe.

Having no knowledge of how the US greeted the news and events of the opening months of the war, being weaned on The Blitz, rationing and telegrams received by my family from the War Office, this perspective was what attracted me about this novel.

Consumed with their own problems after the great depression and the threats to playwrights and actors, although most of the characters seem aware of the gathering storm, they are reluctant to do more than discuss its implications dispassionately. Some are even glad to have escaped it, but no one wants to do anything positive.

Miriam, Jason’s wife, is an aspiring poet whose parents are trapped in Germany. The letters they send to Jason and Miriam are distressing, and Jason cannot understand why New York is so ambivalent about what is happening in Europe. Faced with success after many years of hard work, Jason is torn between a desire to do something to help the Jews, and concentrating on his career.

The novel takes the form of short, cameo scenes, each starring a different set of characters; a playwright, an artist, a musician, an architect, an activist and a gangster, the events of their lives, interspersed with press reports of dire warnings about the coming war, mixed in with film reviews. This unusual, fast-paced format was somewhat confusing at first, and I couldn’t get a handle on who the main characters of the book actually were. I also found myself waiting for the rest of the cast to fall in line with the premise that something had to be done about the war in Europe and the atrocities being perpetrated on the Jewish community.

This novel isn’t as simple at that, however and the realisation of how world changing this war would be takes longer to dawn on those watching it from afar, as well as others who turn off the radio due to the burgeoning difficulties of their own lives.

My initial impatience with their lethargy is soon dispelled as Ms Phelan shows me that perhaps they can be excused for their self absorption. Her characters all have intense, interesting lives, and their denial becomes understandable when their own conflicts are taken into account. No one has a free ride in this book, and in their place, I wondered if I would have instantly clamoured to be involved in a conflict everyone hopes will burn out before it becomes too serious.

With the WPA Federal Theatre Project, the Un-American Activities Committee, the Spanish Civil War, and demonstrations by communist unions thrown into the mix, this goes some way to exonerate those who resist involving themselves in a foreign war. Ms Phelan manages to weave them all together in the later stages, where she also makes a comment on the film Wuthering Heights which made me smile.

The characters who stood out for me, apart from Jason and Miriam and their prickly marriage, was Sarah the harpist whose independence and compassion brings some emotion to the series of loosely connected events. Ms Phelan’s meticulous research adds depth and colour to her story, as well as references to Mayor La Guardia, the hedonistic Gables, Tallulah Bankhead, Katherine Hepburn and many others.

1939-Into The Dark is the second of a trilogy, which deals with iconic events in American history in an unusual way. The first novel is 1919 Misfortune’s End, and the next book to be released is 1969 The Dream of Aquarius.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Panettone (Bread Machine)

Panettone is a traditional Italian bread that is most prevalent during Christmas and Easter. My mother's kitchen always emitted the beautiful aroma of this bread before these holidays and she would make them to give away as gifts to friends and neighbors.

Here is my favourite recipe for the breadmaker.

3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup candied mixed peel and citron
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs beaten
2 egg yolks beaten
1/2 cup butter softened
1 teaspoon anise extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 teaspoons each of grated orange and lemon peel
2 teaspoons yeast

Mix 1 tbsp of the flour with raisins, candied peel and citron. Add milk, eggs, butter, anise, sugar, salt, orange and lemon peels in bread machine pan or proceed as per manufacturer's instructions. Turn on machine and set to normal/basic bread setting, choosing light colour setting if available. Sprinkl reserved fruit mixture into machine when fruit alarm sounds or just as second kneading is ending. Makes one 1 1/2 lb. loaf.

The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini

Winner of the Premio Campiello (Italy's equivalent of the National Book Award)

I'm always excited to get my hands on translated Italian novels. I stumbled across this book while surfing an on-line book store. So I ordered it and just finished reading it the other night.

The writing is beautiful and very, very rich with details. The story is compelling and entertaining. It is no wonder it won Italy's most prestigious literary award.

Here is the cover blurb synopsis:

Winner of the Premio Campiello (Italy's equivalent of the National Book Award), short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award upon its first English-language publication in the U.K., and published to critical acclaim in fourteen languages, this mesmerizing historical novel by one of Italy's premier women writers is available in the United States for the first time.

Set in Sicily in the early eighteenth century, The Silent Duchess is the story of Marianna Ucrìa, the daughter of an aristocratic family and the victim of a mysterious childhood trauma that has left her deaf and mute, trapped in a world of silence. Set apart from the world by her disability, Marianna searches for knowledge and fulfillment in a society where women face either forced marriages and endless childbearing or a life of renunciation within the walls of a convent. When she is just thirteen years old, Marianna is forced to marry her own aging uncle. Her status and wealth as a duchess cannot protect her from many of the horrors of that time: she witnesses her mother's decline due to her addiction to opium and snuff and her father's cruelly misguided religious piety as he participates in the hanging of a young boy. She watches helplessly as her four-year-old son dies of smallpox and her youngest daughter is married off at the age of twelve. It is not until the death of her "uncle-husband" that Marianna at last gains freedom from her life of subservience: she learns to manage her estates and to love a man as she had never loved her husband, and she also learns of the unspeakable events that led to her lifelong silence. In luminous language that conveys both the keen visual sight and thedeep human insight possessed by her remarkable main character, Dacia Maraini captures the splendor and the corruption of Marianna's world and the strength of her spirit. The Silent Duchess is the timeless story of one woman's struggle to find her own voice after years of silence.

Maria Montessori 1870 - 1952

Maria Montessori was born in the town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona, Italy in the year 1870 in an era where it was not common to treat children with respect. The old adage applied – Children should be seen and not heart. Her father, Alessandro Montessori, worked in an official capacity for the Italian government and was a respected member of the bourgeois civil service. Her mother, Renide Stoppani, came from a wealthy, well-educated family known for their devotion to the liberation and unity of Italy.

It was her mother who encouraged Maria towards advanced education and convinced her to register at the Regia Scuola Tecnica Michaelangelo Buonarroti in engineering studies at the age of thirteen. She disliked it greatly and knew that this was not a model for an ideal school. She decided to drop out of her engineering program. Her family, friends, and especially her father, all cheered the decision for they were shocked that she would choose such an unlady-like profession.

Much to their chagrin, Maria decided to go to the University of Rome and become a student of their medical program. She graduated with a score of 100 out of 105 in 1896, the first female doctor in Italy’s history.

A month after her graduation, she was chosen to represent Italy in a Women's International Congress in Berlin, Germany. When she returned to Rome, she was appointed as a surgical assistant at Santo Spirito, worked at the children’s hospital, and maintained a private practice.

By 1897 Maria came to the realization that the children she worked with could not be adequately treated in the hospitals and should instead be educated in schools. Towards this goal, she began to devote more and more of her time towards perfecting education. In 1912 she developed The Montessori Method – a method of learning that used nature to meet the real needs of children.

In 1900 she became a director of a small school for 'challenged' youth. Her methods were hailed as experimental, but miraculous. She believed that children should be taught “how” prior to executing a task.

While working there, Maria had a love affair with a colleague, Dr. Montesano. In 1898, Maria gave birth to her only child, Mario Montessori. They vowed to keep their relationship and the identity of the father of her son a secret. They pledged that neither of them would ever marry another person. Montesano failed to live up to his end of the bargain, however, and fell in love with and married another woman while still working with Montessori in daily contact. The pain of this betrayal caused her to leave the school. She sent her son to a wet nurse and later to a boarding school.

In 1907 Montessori actively began to emphasize her theories and methods of pedagogy. She became the director for a group of daycare centers for children of the working class in one of the worst neighbourhoods in Rome. Her pupils were labelled as “wild and unruly”. Yet, under her guidance and methods, they began to respond. She respected the children and always held them in the highest regard and insisted that the teachers she employed did the same.

The success of their work was amazing. Children younger than three and four years old began to read, write, and initiate self-respect. Her method encouraged these underprivileged children to “absorb their culture”. But they absorbed much more than mere reading and writing – they soon progressed to botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, with great ease and spontaneous energy.

Critics complained her methods were too rigorous and harsh. But instead she argued, “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them." To hear such a statement today, would not turn heads. In Maria Montessori’s day, however, everyone was left agape and shocked. Because she believed that the learning environment was just as important as the learning itself, her school was the first to have child-sized tables and chairs made for the students. Her schools were often peaceful, orderly places, were the children valued their space for concentration and the process of learning.

Her methods completely contradicted traditional forms of educational. For example, adults often reprimand children about runny noses, but never take the time to teach them how to take care of it themselves. Maria said, “I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. After I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater. When I was on the point of leaving the school, the children began to shout, 'Thank you, thank you for the lesson!'"

On one occasion, a teacher was late. The eager students actually crawled through the window and got right to work while they waited. Maria created the game of silence, a brief period of meditation that allowed the children to start the day with a sense of peace and focus.

In the latter years of her life, from around 1907 to the mid-1930's, Maria devoted all of her time and energy in founding schools that taught her method throughout Europe and North America. She also traveled to India and Sri Lanka, and until 1947, she trained thousands of teachers in the Montessori curriculum and methodology.
Maria Montessori died in 1952 in the Netherlands after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. She also worked for women’s rights and social reform. Her success in Italy led to international recognition, and during her lifetime she traveled the world lecturing and training. ‘Educate for Peace’ was her guiding principle which influenced her every deed.

Her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the organization she founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1929 to carry on her work.

Maria made numerous memorable quotations. Following is a collection of her most famous ones:

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger

I am currently reading The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger and am very much enjoying it. It is a love story between Raphael Sanzio, famous painter, and the woman he used as a model, Margherita Luti. The novel has me totally entranced. I'm enjoying the vivid descriptions of Rome, its palazzi, famous personages, and colorful clothing. Here is the back cover blurb:

Rome, 1520. The Eternal City is in mourning. Raphael Sanzio, beloved painter and national hero, has died suddenly at the height of his fame. His body lies in state at the splendid marble Pantheon. At the nearby convent of Sant’Apollonia, a young woman comes to the Mother Superior, seeking refuge. She is Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from a humble neighborhood on the Tiber, now an outcast from Roman society, persecuted by powerful enemies within the Vatican. Margherita was Raphael’s beloved and appeared as the Madonna in many of his paintings. Theirs was a love for the ages. But now that Raphael is gone, the convent is her only hope of finding an honest and peaceful life.

The Mother Superior agrees to admit Margherita to their order. But first, she must give up the ruby ring she wears on her left hand, the ring she had worn in Raphael’s scandalous nude “engagement portrait.” The ring has a storied past, and it must be returned to the Church or Margherita will be cast out into the streets. Behind the quiet walls of the convent, Margherita makes her decision . . . and remembers her life with Raphael—and the love and torment—embodied in that one precious jewel.

In The Ruby Ring, Diane Haeger brings to life a love affair so passionate that it remains undimmed by time. Set in the sumptuous world of the Italian Renaissance, it’s the story of the clergymen, artists, rakes, and noblemen who made Raphael and Margherita’s world the most dynamic and decadent era in European history.

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

Eighteenth century Venice is an era of decadence and sin, intrigue and corruption, illicit romance and dark secrets. Carnivale and the wearing of opulent masks make hiding while in public easy. Trysts and illicit encounters abound. Danger and violence lurk around any chosen corner. Under this magnificent and glamorous backdrop, the lives of three young girls, Adrianna, Elena, and Marietta, intertwine at the “Ospedale della Pieta” a renowned music conservatory for orphaned girls.
Adrianna, the most famous and most highly revered singer of the Pieta gives up the opportunity for a sensational career in the opera to marry a talented Venetian mask- maker whom she has fallen deeply in love with.

The beautiful blonde and blue-eyed Elena catches the attention of Marco and Fillipo Celano, two brothers from a very rich and powerful family. She is in love with and betrothed to Marco, but when he suddenly dies before their wedding, she must become the wife of his brother, Filipo, a man who is ambitious as well as dangerous. To maintain his lofty position within the Celano family, Filipo must sire an heir, but Elena remains barren. The more desperate he becomes for an heir, the more he turns to violence towards the gentle Elena.

The rich voice and beauty catapults Marietta into top spot at the Pieta. She becomes one of the most famed singers of Venice. Her notoriety draws the notice and love of a handsome Frenchman named Alix Desgrange. Their plans to elope are ruined when Alix’s guardian learns of the tryst. The two lovers are forever separated when Alix must marry someone else in his homeland of France.

Several years pass. Marietta receives a marriage proposal from Domenico Torrisi. The Torrisi and Celano families have been mortal enemies for many years. Once she marries into the Torrisi family, she will never be allowed to see Elena again. Both husbands forbid the two women to maintain their friendship. With the aid of Adrianna, Elena and Marietta begin to meet discreetly. Their friendship continues under these clandestine conditions. Further, they develop a repertoire of secret hand and eye signals to communicate with each other whenever in public.

Clandestine meetings, secret births, murder, vengeance, vendetta, betrayal, and political intrigue decorate this intricate plot. I was easily drawn into the story as the simplicity and joy of life for the three “Pieta” girls deteriorate.
Rosalind Laker vividly recreates the mystique of the “golden age” of Venice where sin can hide behind the mask of the wearer. She has wonderfully portrayed the decadence of Venice. The reader will be swept away on a heart-wrenching journey of violence, trickery, and dark secrets. The story’s realistic sub-plots of hatred and obsession draw the reader deeper into the tale. The rich decadence of Venetian life of centuries past, unforgettable characters, and the roller-coaster of twists and turns sprinkled throughout the story, make this an unforgettable novel. The stories of the three girls and the hardships they must overcome is endearing. The ending does not disappoint. I recommend this unique novel for anyone who wants to vividly experience the rich culture of the ancient city of Venice.

The Wildest Horse Race in the World by Marguerite Henry

I am an avid reader of any book or novel that pertains to Italy. I stumbled upon this book accidentally. It was a discard from a school library and because it pertained to medieval Italy, and therefore research for future novels of mine, I immediately purchased the book.

This is a classic tale about a young boy and a horse who enter the famous Italian Palio. The author, Marguerite Henry did an exceptional job at researching this novel by attending the Palio and Siena herself to study the sport. She brings to life the pain, the excitement, and the passion for this sport.

Throughout the sometimes heart-wrenching tale of endurance, Henry reveals the ancient practice in vivid detail. It is a story of overcoming the unsurmountable, of perseverence, of achieving the impossible.

The book was first published in 1976 and can still be found on-line at various bookstores. It is beautifully illustrated to bring alive the details and scenery of the ancient city of Siena.

So, if you are a collector of Italian books, then this is a must have for your bookshelf and children.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vita by Melania Mazzucco

“The image of that city rising from the water and aiming straight for the sky will stay with him for the rest of his life - so near and yet so unreachable.”

This novel written by Melania Mazzucco became an international publishing sensation with the rights were sold in 11 countries, 300,000 copies were sold in Italy, and it won the prestigious Strega Award in Italy.

Melania Mazzucco brings to life the Italian immigrant experience, the journeys of hopes, dreams, illusions and disillusionment that many made at the turn of the century to escape poverty.

Historical fact is melded with fiction as Mazzucco reveals the story of Vita (aged nine) and Diamante (aged 12), two cousins who immigrate to New York City in 1903. After clearing customs at Ellis Island, the two children try to locate Vita’s father who lives in a boardinghouse located in the Italian Quarter.

Mazzucco’s prose is powerful and she breathe life to the horrible conditions the poor Italian immigrant was subjected to. It is a struggle merely to survive as Vita and Diamante try to assimilate into.

From squalor to the brutal conditions of labor; from lack of essentials to starvation, from disease to death, from the threats of the notorious Black Hand letters to murder and chaos - the reader experiences all the darkness of the times through the eyes of these two children and the various characters in the story. Out of the darnkess of their lives, Vita and Diamante discover an enduring love.

Diamante becomes trapped working as a waterboy for a railroad - the more he earns, the more he owes. Disillusioned, he escapes to the west. Their separation affects the two youths in many ways, with both good and bad influences. Shattered dreams, discouragement, toil and struggle change the immigrants.

Mazzucco tells this history of her family with passion and pain. Each word is to be savoured and understood and by the end of the novel, the reader is left with a lasting impression of what thousands of Italian immigrants struggled with to rebuild their lives in a new world.

Brava Melania Mazzucco.

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

VIVALDI'S VIRGINSBarbara Quick, Harper Collins, 2007, $24.95 USD / $31.00 CND, hardcover, 284 pages, ISBN: 978-0-06-089052-0

Anna Maria dal Violin was abandoned as a baby and lives as an orphan in the foundling home and cloisters of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. From an early age, she was taught to play the violin and became part of an elite orchestra of orphan girls. Antonio Vivaldi, the "Red Priest" composed many of his pieces for them.

Anna Maria longs to learn who her parents are. Sister Laura instructs Anna Maria to share her most inner thoughts and aspirations into letters to the mother she has never known. She soon rises to become Vivaldi's favorite and he composes challenges pieces for her to play.

But Anna Maria longs to learn who she is and longs to see Venice. On more than one occasion, she manages to escape from the orphanage. Each time she is caught and punished. A small golden locket and chain is presented to her by a Jewish seamstress. Anna Maria knows it holds the secret of her parentage. Eventually, Anna Maria does learn the truth about herself and some of the other characters.

Behind the masks of Carnivale and the musical scores of Vivaldi, 18th century Venice comes brilliantly to life. In this passionate novel, Vivaldi is seen through the eyes of Anna Maria. The plot takes several twists and turns that enthrall the reader. The details of history are well researched and the imagery sensational.

The prose is lyrical and mesmerizing at times.
Quick has included a glossary at the end to help the reader with Italian words and phrases. At the end, Barbara Quick describes what is historical fact and what she created from her imagination. This is a complex tale and will appeal to lovers of Italian history as well as fans of Vivaldi and his music. Barbara Quick has written a truly enduring coming of age story.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Land Beyond Ravens by Kathleen Guler

A Land Beyond Ravens - Book Four of the Macsen’s Treasure Series

In 5th century Britain, High King Uther Pendragon is old, frail, and sick. He has no known heir and must name one before he dies. Lesser king, Cadwallon, waits impatiently to take his place. But Uther Pendragon does indeed have an heir, his whereabouts a secret even to him. A son named Arthur who has been hidden away since birth under the guidance of an old, wise wizard. Almost no one knows of his existence. Soon, Arthur will be acknowledged as Uther Pendragon’s sole heir and high king. But until then, doubts swirl about his existence.

Marcus is a fallen confidant of Uther Pendragon. Over the years, he served as the high king’s spy. But now, he knows too much and he is no longer favoured or trusted by the king. He struggles to keep the peace between Cadwallon and the Christian Church, both desirous of increasing their power.

Marcus’ beloved wife, Claerwen is gifted with “fire in the head” (the ability to see the future). She was also a trusted servant of the king, having protected Uther’s daughter by taking her to Avalon. When her sister, Drysi, and a strange monk, Gwion, seek shelter with Marcus at their fortress, trouble mysteriously ensues.
A Land Beyond Ravens is the 4th and final book of the Macsen’s Treasure Series. Even though I had not read the preceding novels, I was easily able to follow the plot and relevant backstory through clever, brief snippets throughout the story. The reader follows the numerous twists and turns of the story through the point of view of the two main characters, Marcus and Claerwan, created completely from the imagination of author Kathleen Cunningham Guler. As such, this keeps the story fresh and unique from the actual Arthurian Legend. Guler writes with a strong voice and vibrant prose. Her use of Welsh and Celtic names and words adds realism to the skilfully woven tale. She is a master at creating unique, unusual characters which draw the reader deeper into the story in anxious desire to unlock their secrets.

I highly recommend this book to afficionado’s of the Arthurian legend. The previous books in the series are Into the Path of Gods, In the Shadow of Dragons, and The Anvil Stone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

About Me

Mirella Patzer is a novelist, researcher, blogger, and history afficionado. She has published two novels. Her short stories have been featured in several anthologies. She has been featured in radio programs and newspaper articles. She is currently at work on a trilogy about the women of the Ottonian Empire. She lives and writes from her home between Calgary and the Canadian Rockies and her condo in Great Falls Montana.