Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sappho's Leap by Erica Jong








Told in the first person, this book begins with Sappho, the celebrated songstress, acclaimed as “The Tenth Muse” standing on the brink of eternity, on the edge of the cliff she is contemplating jumping from, a precipice renowned for curing those who leap from it of hopeless love. Some survive the leap, others perish, it is all in the hands of the gods.

For those who enjoy intelligent novels containing elements of adventure, romance, fantasy, and philosophy, this may well be just the book for you, though I recommend brushing up on your Greek mythology first if your school days are far behind you.

A devotee of the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, Sappho, a rather plain young woman with blue-black hair and a slightly twisted spine, falls passionately in love with the golden-haired poet Alcaeus, though he professes that he prefers boys. She joins his plot to overthrow the cruel dictator and as a result is parted from her lover and exiled from her native Isle of Lesbos on pain of death should she return and married to a drunken fool in the hope that the life of a traditional Greek housewife busy with the loom and larder, supervising the slaves and childrearing will keep her out of trouble. But Sappho finds fame as a singer, which gets her out of the house, and a new love when her daughter, Cleis, her “golden flower” is born from a seed already planted by Alcaeus before Sappho's marriage.

Anxious for her daughter’s future, she consults various oracles and, though her passion for the absent Alcaeus still runs strong, she becomes infatuated with the beautiful Egyptian priestess Isis. The two often make love in the priestess’s sarcophagus to “experience a foretaste of immortality.” Horrified by her behavior, Sappho’s visiting mother kidnaps baby Cleis and takes her back to Lesbos where Sappho cannot go without risking her life.

The rest of the book unfurls like a richly embroidered tapestry illustrating a grand, perilous, and passionate odyssey that takes Sappho to Delphi to consult the famed oracle, then on to Egypt where she is befriended by the famed writer of fables Aesop who helps her liberate her foolish brothers who have become literally enslaved by the wiles of a notorious courtesan, and then to the Land of the Amazons where she is commanded to be a female Homer and write an epic of their history. She loses several years wandering in Hades, the Land of the Dead, seeing the pale ghosts of her father, baby brother, and others she has known, and emerges to become a reluctant priestess of a failed Utopian paradise comprised of Amazon maidens and Egyptian sailors and their offspring.

After encounters with various gods, goddesses, and legendary beings, including the centaurs, the lovers are eventually reunited, but the course of true love never did run smooth. And when at last Sappho returns to Lesbos and meets her daughter, now grown to womanhood and a mother herself, ashamed of the song that has made her famous as her mother’s “golden flower” she finds the great love she has to give her only child rejected. Sappho tries but cannot give up her songs as her daughter wants and settle down into the quietly respectable life of a gray-haired grandmother, and live down her wild days and put them far behind her, and events, including slander, suicide, and an affair with a beautiful eternally young ferryman named Phaon with an “indefatigable phallus” eventually lead her to climb the Leucadian cliffs. Will she leap? And more importantly, will she live, or is Sappho fated to survive only in her songs?

A note for those concerned about sexual content in their reading: Although Sappho's name is today synonymous with lesbianism, in this novel Sappho is unabashedly what we would today call bisexual, which was common in the ancient world. There are some sex scenes, but they are brief and not explicit catalogs of every touch, kiss, and caress, so anyone sensitive to such things should not shy away from giving this book a chance. There are also some orgies with rather brutal and disgusting behavior that are briefly mentioned to illustrate the depravity of visitors to the courtesan Rhodopis's palace. In other words, this is a novel with some erotic elements but not a work of erotica.






Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Interview + Giveaway of The Tudor Throne



You can read a new review of The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy (Mary & Elizabeth by Emily Purdy) at http://siobianthebookowl.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-tudor-throne-by-brandy-purdy.html

plus a new author interview and also enter to win a signed copy of the book at http://siobianthebookowl.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-brandy-purdy-and.html

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne



Elisabeth von Winterkirche, a tomboy in petticoats, would rather wield a sword than an embroidery needle, and cares more for war than the traditional life of a Bavarian noblewoman and wife. After her beloved twin brother Elias dies, and she is forced into a most unhappy
marriage with a brute who repeatedly rapes her, Elisabeth dons her brother's armor, crops her hair, and with his squire and secret lover, Albrecht, sets out to join the doomed Crusade of 1101.

Along the way to Constantinople and then the Holy Land, she cleverly deals with all the tricks necessary to conceal her femininity and gains in confidence as she discovers that people "see what they expect. They see the armor and the cross and need look no harder," and readily accept her as what she seems to be--an innocent young nobleman embarking on a quest, his sword yet unbloodied.
The journey also proves enlightening in another fashion--Elisabeth, now calling herself Elias, discovers her attraction to her own sex, first in a chaste infatuation with the beautiful Ida, Margravina of Austria, and then in the arms of the beautiful whore Guiliana when her comrades in arms good-naturedly treat their young companion to a night of pleasure, to lose his suspected virginity. Guiliana keeps Elisabeth's secret and initiates her into the arts of love between women, which will stand her in good stead when, soon after, she finds the love of her life in the honey-eyed half Turkish, half Greek servant woman Maliha. But all too soon Elisabeth must leave her love behind and go on to face the blood, roar, and thunder of battle, and the heat, filth, and buzzing flies of an army of unwashed armor-clad bodies on the march and the deprivation and want they endure when supplies run low and the enemy burns the fields rather than have their crops fall into enemy hands.
Nan Hawthorne paints a vivid, living, breathing, and, when it comes to the travails of war, broiling hot and reeking portrait of what life was like for a pilgrim knight on crusade. Beloved Pilgrim is a grand tale of love and adventure, heartache and self-discovery that both male and
female readers can enjoy.

For those concerned about sexual content in their reading matter: the lesbian sex scenes are vividly rendered, but they are not, in my opinion, gratuitous, as each expresses something about the characters involved--In this story, sexuality is also part of the journey.
Beloved Pilgrim breathes new life into the oft-told centuries old tale of "girl disguises herself as boy to go off to war" and is one of the best novels of this kind that I have ever read.




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Second Edition of Tabby's Calendar Now Available




A new edition of Tabby's calendar A Year With Tabby is now available at a new lower price, some of the best of the older photos are still there, including Tabby in her pjamas and French Maid costume, but some new have been added too. You can order a copy for $12.99 at http://www.lulu.com/product/calendar/a-year-with-tabby-the-cat-of-historical-novelist-brandy-purdy/16529056 I'm not a professional photographer (obviously!) this is just a fun project for both of us. I make about 30 cents off each calendar, all of which goes into Tabby's piggy bank for treats and toys.