Thursday, December 17, 2009

The French Blue by Richard W. Wise





Almost everyone has heard the legend of the cursed Hope Diamond, but did you ever wonder how it all began, who was the man behind that alluring behemoth blue diamond, what is the truth behind the myths that have been set like the ring of smaller white diamonds that surround the glittering blue mystery on display at the Smithsonian? Well, thanks to Mr. Wise, we now have a novel that nimbly toes the line between truth and literary invention and tells the life story of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier; "The French Blue" is a novel that adheres to the known facts with just a little fiction thrown in as garnish and to fill in the unknown gaps in Tavernier's life.

The son of a cartographer (mapmaker) who never got to visit the far-off and exotic places he incorporated into the maps he made, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, his wanderlust fueled by the tales of travelers who visited his father, grew up to be a savvy multilingual world traveler, a canny gem merchant with a brilliant eye for the finest stones, and a shrewd bargainer, adept at getting the best prices and reaping a profit.

Like the boy Tavernier sitting by the fire listening to a traveler's fantastical tale, "The French Blue" gives the reader the same feeling. Through Tavernier's words, this leisurely and engrossing novel gives readers a window to the 17th century, and lets us peep into a world of battlefields, bedrooms, court and diplomatic intrigues, and experience the perils of travel in the days before automobiles, airplanes, and trains, and hear the merchants, the buyers and sellers, bargain, barter, and haggle. And we get to see the cultures and customs of Persia, India, and other exotic lands, strange and unknown, sometimes even bizarre, to European eyes and ears. And then there are the gems--turquoise, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds--rough and unpolished, brought up from the bowels of the earth to be cleaned, cut, and faceted, transformed into sparkling wonders to be marveled at, gasped and sighed over, coveted and adored.

This exhaustively researched novel, assembled with the same care as a gem-cutter faceting a precious stone, has the authentic feel of a traveler's journal, however, those readers who prefer a more emotional, soul-baring narrator, may find it lacks the "poetry of the soul." But those who prefer a more factual tone, and deplore the more fantastical and lascivious embroidery worked by historical novelists, may find that "The French Blue" is precisely their cup of tea. As for myself, I just like a good story, and I found "The French Blue," with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket, to be a good companion on these cold winter nights.

Special Thanks to Richard W. Wise for sending me a copy of his book.




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mary of Nazareth by Marek Halter






After penning a popular trilogy about lesser known women from the Old Testament (Sarah, Zipporah, Lilah), Marek Halter now turns his pen to the most famous biblical female of all--The Virgin Mary.

Halter spins a dramatic tale of a bold, spirited, temperamental, free-thinking, strong-willed young woman who sharply contrasts the pale and placid beauties artists have been painting for centuries to depict the beatific, serene Virgin. Halter's Miriam--she is called Mary only in the title of the book and in the final pages--lives in a time of crippling taxes, rampant poverty, and bloodshed during the reign of King Herod, a cruel and unjust monarch, who, wielding his might through his army of mercenaries and tax collectors brings great suffering to the Jewish people. The mercenaries regularly descend on Nazareth to pillage, burn, destroy, beat, rape, capture, and kill. During one such nighttime raid, young Miriam saves the life of Barabbas, a biblical version of Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

When Miriam's beloved carpenter father, Joachim, one of the kindest and gentlest men who ever lived, kills a soldier and wounds a tax collector during a skirmish in which he tries to defend an elderly woman trying to safeguard her most precious possession--a Hanukkah candlestick--he is sentenced to crucifixion. Ignoring the entreaties of her mother, Hannah, and their friends, Miriam travels to Sepphoris and seeks out Barabbas. Remembering the young girl who once saved his life, Barabbas arranges a daring nocturnal rescue and one of his most devoted followers, Obadiah, the young leader of a dirty, ragtag band of street-Arabs, snatches Joachim right off the cross.

Unable to return to Nazareth and resume their old lives, Miriam and Joachim join Barabbas to organize the oppressed people of Galilee in a rebellion against Herod and free Israel, once and for all, from the yoke of Rome. But negotiations break down when the leaders of the various sects (Zealots, Essenes, Sadduces, Pharisees) and Barabbas cannot agree. Out of the various candidates not one man emerges who is clearly capable of uniting and leading the Jewish people to freedom. And they part ways, agreeing only that they disagree. But before he goes, Joseph of Arimathea is greatly impressed by Miriam and her conviction that war is not the answer--violence and pain beget only more violence and pain--and arranges for her to study with the learned women in Magdala, where she acquires a lifelong friend, Mariamne (Mary Magdalene).

Two years later, Barabbas comes back into Miriam's life when he appears in Magdala with the mortally wounded Obadiah. They journey to Damascus to seek the aid of Joseph of Arimathea, a renowned healer and leader of the Essene brotherhood, but arrive too late. Obadiah dies in Miriam's arms, after confessing his love for her and promising to be her angel. Indeed, he never truly leaves her; according to Miriam, he begins to visit her in visions, bringing her comfort, and jokingly calling himself her "little husband." Concerned friends begin to suspect that losing Obadiah has caused Miriam and her sanity to part company.

The final chapters cover Miriam's return to Nazareth and her rather atypical pregnancy and the reactions of her family, friends, and the villagers. The book ends rather abruptly and, to my mind, unsatisfyingly. In an epilogue that, in my opinion, has a tacked on feel, the author explains that while visiting Warsaw he met a woman named Maria, who saved 2,000 Jewish children from the Nazis, and had a son of her own named Jesus who perished in the holocaust. Before they parted, this Maria gave Mr. Halter a scroll, handed down for generations, called "The Gospel of Mary," and it is with this gospel, written in Miriam's own words, that Mr. Halter ends his novel.

Based on other reviews I have seen for this book, many readers have been offended by it, but I was not one of them, perhaps because I am a very open-minded person and I accept fiction as fiction regardless of the genre and amount of facts mixed in. To me, this was just another novel to pass the time, I found it neither shocking or especially memorable; I liked the author's earlier novel "Sarah" much better. I found "Mary of Nazareth" to be a quick and interesting read, not at all ponderous or pushy, but ultimately lackluster. Besides the abrupt ending, the one glaring fault I did find was the usage of some very modern words, such as "chat" and "kid" and expressions like "for sure" that just seem really awkward and out of place in a biblical novel; a ragamuffin boy commenting on Joachim's ordeal on the cross observes "a whole day up there must really knock you out." However, as most of these "slips" come from the mouth of Obadiah, the leader of a gang of roving street-urchins, I am guessing this may be intentional on either the author's or translator's part, to perhaps make the character seem more like his modern-day counterparts.




The Preservationist by David Maine



This was a delightful little book, a clever, fresh, humor-infused retelling of the story of Noah's Ark, without the preachiness or solemnity that sometimes mar novels set in Biblical times. The cast of characters come alive as vibrantly human, with all their faults and foibles. There is Noe (Noah), the stern, unyielding patriarch; The Wife, whose name has been forgotten, a fatalistic, pragmatic woman; and their three sons: obedient, superstitious Sem; grumpy, gloomy, sullen but sensible Cham, who, by a fortuitous coincidence just happens to be a shipbuilder; and snickering, slugabed, horny teenager Japeth who tries to avoid work as if it were the plague. The boys' wives are equally individual: buxom, brown-skinned, barren Bera, whose father sold her into slavery as a child; tall, albino-fair Ilya, an educated woman, particularly knowledgeable about cosmology, astronomy, weather patterns, and the natural sciences, from a land of snow and goddess-worshiping tribes ruled by matriarchs; and petite and timid Mirn a shy, soft-spoken teenager usually dismissed as having an empty head but a lovely body.

The story begins when 600 year old Noe comes home late for supper and announces to his long-suffering wife "I must build a boat," despite their being nowhere remotely near the sea. While out in the mustard field God spoke to Noe and informed him that because the world has become riddled with sin and corruption on such a rampant, widespread scale He has decided to destroy it with a great flood and start over fresh. And he wants Noe and his family to survive and repopulate the world with people and animals. In order to do this Noe must build an ark, a great ship, 300 cubits long, by 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall, and fill it with breeding pairs of every species of animal from the tiniest to the towering.

After years of putting up with Noah and his special relationship with God, his wife has learned to just nod and go with the flow. And so, trusting God to provide, Noe sets about making God's words a reality.

While he and sons labor to construct this titanic floating barnyard, their wives are given the onerous task of collecting the necessary animals; the non-domestic varieties not readily at hand.

Bera journeys back to her homeland where she finds her estranged father dying; repenting selling his daughter into slavery, he makes her a gift of his private menagerie, which includes such exotic specimens as apes of all sorts, including monkeys and baboons, various jungle cats, crocodiles, hippos, gazelles, elephants, ostriches, anteaters, rhinos, armadillos, giraffes, and zebras. As she is on the verge of departing, Bera receives an even more precious gift, a pair of newborn twins, a boy and girl, whose mother died in childbirth, leading their grief-stricken father to despise them. A miracle then occurs, the barren Bera's breasts begin to spout milk to provide her newly acquired children with sustenance.

Impersonating a priestess of Oda, a blood-drinking goddess, to save herself from rape and enlist the aid of a group of wolfskin-clad barbarains, Ilya returns to the northlands where she was born and brings back a fine collection of foxes, wolves, bears, and deer.

Mirn stays close to home, to help her mother-in-law and gather the little creatures that often provoke shudders of revulsion and are generally regarded as pests--insects, snakes, and rodents.

Meanwhile, a crowd gathers, setting up temporary quarters in hastily constructed shanties, to gape, gawk, and jeer at the great boat rising out of the desert sands. They heckle and laugh at Noe, dismissing him as a crackpot, and touched in the head, but when the rains begin and the flood waters steadily rise they quickly change their tune. Then it is Noe's turn to gloat and heckle them. Even the sight of innocent children condemned to a watery death fails to tug at his heartstrings. The world is being washed clean of sin and corruption and Noe and his family are the chosen ones, privileged to start anew with a clean-wiped slate, and Noe feels only joy and honored to be chosen by God.

For forty days and forty nights they suffer the ceaselessly falling rains and rocking waves. Noe likens Hell to their existence belowdecks. In the close quarters of the family cabin, hemmed in by animals on all sides; animals to the right and left of them, animals above and below them, the odors of dung and urine, both human and animal, pervade and mingle with the miasma of unwashed bodies, vomit, smoke from the cookstove, and the scent of sex when the young couples take to rutting away their boredom.

Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character, and we see how their ordeal upon the raging floodwaters changes and affects them. The philosophical Ilya thinks often of the nonbelievers, especially the innocent children who died, and wonders "Why them and not me?" Bera ponders "Why did God do it?" Each person has a different answer to this question, no two are alike, and in the end it all boils down to "The Lord does what He wants, when He wants to;" any search for deeper or greater meaning is, in the end,just theological debate.

The youngest son, Japeth, sums it up best with his oft repeated words: "We'll have a Hell of a story for the grandkids!" And this reader, for one, thinks he's right; David Maine's The Preservationist is a great new spin on an old, old tale.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra is an unwilling, unhappy member of the polygamist cult known as "The Chosen Ones." A sect which believes that God created women to serve man, and it is up to their men to discipline them and keep them, and their children, in line, those feeble in body and mind are unworthy of heaven and deserve to be put out of their misery like wounded dogs, long hair modestly braided, long sleeves and long-skirted dresses are derigueur, The Bible is the only suitable reading matter, all other books are the work of Satan, modern medical treatment is banned even though women suffer through the complications of repeat pregnancies, and a man cannot attain Heaven unless he has at least three wives. The cult lives on an isolated desert compound with its own police force, known as "The God Squad," to enforce the rules laid down by the Prophet and the leading members of his church, known as the Disciples.

Kyra finds an unexpected window into the world when she is befriended by Patrick, the kind-hearted driver of the library's bookmobile. He stops every week to give her a fresh book, which she keeps hidden and devours like a starving person, relishing each and every word. Through the richness of literature--everything from "Anne of Green Gables" to "Harry Potter"--she discovers a whole new, magical world that changes her forever.

Kyra also unexpectedly finds love with Joshua, a slightly older boy, who shuns the cult's polygamist beliefs and wants to choose Kyra to be his one and only bride. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle, Hyrum, a brutal man who even disciplines a baby for crying in front of the Prophet by making its mother hold it down in a basin of ice water until it turns blue, Kyra must choose between her beloved family and breaking free into the outside world.

Although brief, "The Chosen One" is a gripping tale of the crimes that are committed in the name of religion and the cult leaders who set themselves up as self-styled demigods and rule their followers with fear and an iron glove. And the abuse that is meted out to women and innocent children in God's name, and how religious beliefs are made into shackles that chafe, bind, and strangle, and sometimes kill those who strain against them trying to break free. 

Note: Though marketed as suitable for young readers, there are some disturbing scenes of violence in "The Chosen One." Parents who monitor their children's reading matter might want to review this one first before putting it in young hands.







Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Boleyn Wife / The Tudor Wife, Brandy Purdy / Emily Purdy -- Why The Name Change?




It has been brought to my attention that my UK publisher's decision to change both the title of my second novel and my own first name is causing some confusion and misconceptions so I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the matter.

First of all, the novel in question, known as The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy in the USA and The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy in the UK started out as a self-published, print-on-demand book that was published by iuniverse under the title of Vengeance Is Mine. This edition was withdrawn from publication when Kensington bought the rights. Besides giving my book professional editing and allowing me to revise and add additional content, they also decided to change the title, thus it became The Boleyn Wife. When Harper/Avon UK purchased the rights for a British edition, they also decided that a name change was warranted. Since Harper also publishes the works of Philippa Gregory, who has written two novels with the name Boleyn in the title, they changed the title of my book to The Tudor Wife to avoid confusion with hers.

As for my own name, Brandy Purdy is my real name, however, for cultural and marketing reasons, Harper/Avon deemed it wise to change my first name. Apparently Brandy lacks Brit appeal, at least where historical fiction is concerned. The marketing department decided that a more traditional English name like Emily would be more appropriate. And I've never been overly fond of Brandy myself, so...

However, there has been some speculation online that this change is intended as a makeover, to conceal my true identity and the existence of my first novel, The Confession of Piers Gaveston, and previous incarnations of the book that has caused all this. This is definitely not the case. As a reader--and I was a reader long before I was a writer--more than once I have had the annoying experience of buying a book only to discover that I had already read it under a different title, so I have always tried to make it very clear on both my website, www.brandypurdy.com, and this blog that a work of mine is available under different titles.


Thank you for reading this. I hope I have been able to end the confusion and satisfy any curiosity about this matter.




Friday, December 11, 2009

Want To Read The Boleyn Wife Now?



Would you like to read my novel The Boleyn Wife before it hits store shelves on January 26th? If you have an established blog that features book reviews, are located in the USA (sorry, I can't ship outside the U.S.) and are able to post a review before or around the release date, email me at bkpbooks at yahoo dot com. First come, first serve.

Cover Art For The Tudor Wife (UK Edition of The Boleyn Wife)



The Boleyn Wife will be published in the UK as The Tudor Wife, under my British pen name, Emily Purdy.



Sunday, December 6, 2009

Another Review of The Boleyn Wife

You can read Celtic Lady's review of The Boleyn Wife at
http://celticladysramblings.blogspot.com/2009/12/boleyn-wife-by-brandy-purdy.html

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir



This wonderful, hard-to-put-down novel charts the life of Elizabeth Tudor from the death of her mother, Anne Boleyn, in 1536 to the day Elizabeth becomes Queen of England in 1558. Historian Alison Weir does a wonderful job of capturing the mind and voice of Henry VIII's clever red-haired daughter even when her head and body churn with confusion and contradictory desires and longings.

The primary focus of the story is Elizabeth's infatuation with her stepfather, Thomas Seymour, the handsome, virile husband of Catherine Parr, a colourful and hot-headed rascal suffering from the disease of soul-devouring ambition as he schemes to snare a royal bride and wrest the power of Tudor government away from his brother, the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour.

One controversial aspect of this novel is that Alison Weir, although as a historian she believes Elizabeth remained a virgin in the full physical sense her entire life, chose in the pages of her fiction to let Elizabeth succumb to Seymour and become pregnant as a result of their one and only sexual encounter. While some historical fiction fans have not liked this, I thought it was an excellent twist and very well done, seamlessly blending with an old tale from Tudor times about a midwife being taken blindfolded to attend the young Elizabeth in childbed.

The novel also vividly recreates the clash of wills between Mary and Elizabeth. As Mary's fanatical determination to restore England to the Catholic fold leads to the burning of Protestant "heretics" and turns England into a country fraught with fear, and her subjects' love for her dwindles and dies, Elizabeth becomes the people's beacon of hope, the woman who will lead the way to a more enlightened future. And Mary's fragile mind becomes increasingly suspicious of Elizabeth, seeing her as the figurehead of every Protestant plot, and placing Elizabeth in danger at the hands of the sister who once loved her as if she were her own child.

"The Lady Elizabeth" is a vivid portrait of the perils this courageous and clever young woman faced on the long, winding, and often rutted and bumpy road to the throne, with a stay in the Tower of London and many brushes with danger along the way.

I have read many novels about Elizabeth I over the years, but this one ranks alongside "Legacy" by Susan Kay as my favorite so far.




Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dust and Shadow An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye


In 1939, fifty-one years after the atrocities of 1888, perpetrated by the fiend known to history as Jack the Ripper, Dr. Watson takes up his pen to reveal the role his friend the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes played in the investigation of the most infamous killer of all time. He begins with the tantalizing statement: "At first it seemed the Ripper affair had scarred my friend Sherlock Holmes as badly as it had the city of London itself.'

The reader is then transported back to the London of Queen Victoria, hansom cabs, and gaslights to hear a tale peopled with peasoup fogs, penny whores, perplexed police officers, yellow journalists, street urchins, and over-vigilant vigilantes that bear more resemblance to a lynch mob. The story takes Holmes and Watson from the comfortable environs of 221B Baker Street to the dangerous streets of Whitechapel, a world of grinding poverty, dark alleys, pubs, doss houses, and opium dens. They are aided in their investigation by an enterprising streetwalker who was friends with one of the victims and a young man who is not at first what he seems, and are hampered by a muckraking journalist who casts suspicion on Holmes himself.

The game is indeed afoot as readers follow Sherlock Holmes and the loyal Watson through Whitechapel on Guy Fawkes Night as, amidst the celebratory firecrackers, bonfires, roasting potatoes, and burning effigies, the clues begin to fall into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and it is a race against time to try to prevent the next murder and bring the killer to justice.

Ms. Faye does a fine job of recreating the style of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories and evoking the sights, sounds,and smells of Victorian London, and the alternately plucky, pathetic, violent, and colourful denizens of the East End slums.

This is a Ripper story unembellished by the outlandish theories and conspiracies that are all too common in the literature, even that labeled as non-fiction. And although it is never made quite clear in the pages of Ms. Faye's novel what exactly drove the Ripper to kill and mutilate his unfortunate victims, it is nonetheless a fine addition to the shelves of Sherlockiana.