Tuesday, June 29, 2010
This is being buzzed as the Big Book of the Year, and with reason: it was bought for a colossal sum at auction by Ballantine Books; film rights sold to Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Gladiator within days, and it's drawn comparisons to the best of Stephen King. Being a fan of King's earlier novels (The Shining is one of my all-time favorites) I was intrigued by Cronin's apocalyptic tale of a scientific experiment gone awry and a world overcome by virological vampires, aptly dubbed "virals." At the center of this huge story spanning over 700 pages is an enigmatic girl named Amy, whose abandonment by her mother propels her into the horrific events leading up to the end of civilization as we know it, and the creation of a much-altered and frightening post-collapse society, where clusters of surviving mortals hide behind enclosed homesteads and banks of battery-powered lights which are slowly but inexorably losing power. The cast is immense, as befitting an epic, though at times this proves challenging both in remembering who everyone is and investing in any single person, particularly as you never know when said person will fall prey to the marauding, tree-leaping, blood-thirsty virals who've quite literally "eaten the world." These virals, however, are more than toothy creatures; and it's their secret, as well as Amy's role in it, that drives the story to its long-winded but ultimately creepy conclusion. THE PASSAGE requires immersion and patience; but for the intrepid reader there are rewards to be had, including the first 250 pages, which are a pitch-perfect icy soak into the terrors of science taken to extreme, and later on, a particularly nasty confrontation with hordes of virals in devastated Las Vegas. Mr Cronin is working on the next book in a proposed trilogy.
THE ILLUMINATOR by Brenda Rickman Vantrese
This is another book that generated serious buzz when it sold to St Martin's Press years ago and I bought a first edition because, frankly, the cover looked like a gold-laminated Faberge egg. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to reading it until recently, though I've faithfully bought the next two books by Ms Vantrese based on reviews. And let me just say for the record: Why did I wait so long?! THE ILLUMINATOR is a magnificent, thought-provoking and defiantly anti-anachronistic plunge into the turmoil and tragedy of 14th century England. The story, on the surface, appears deceptively simple: a widow, Lady Kathyrn - portrayed refreshingly in middle age, rather than the dewy glamour of youth- is fighting to save her estate as inheritance for her sons from the rapacity of the Church and ill-intentioned suitors. Enter a mysterious illuminator named Finn and his evanescent daughter; after a mishap on the road involving a pig and a dwarf, Finn is conscripted into plying his trade as an illuminator of manuscripts for the local bishop and comes to live in Lady Kathyrn's manor, where his presence sets off a chain of life-shattering events. Vantrese's true strengths lie in her superb grasp of the era and understanding of the complex importance of spirituality to people striving to overcome every-day suffering. This is not a romanticized historical recreation; THE ILLUMINATOR transports you into a time both fascinating and repellent in its contradictions. Ms Vantrese is also the author of The Mercy Seller and The Heretic's Wife, which loosely connect with her first book and are now at the top of my TBR list.
DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE by Isabel Allende
Let me say it upfront: I'm a devoted fan of Ms Allende. From her House of the Spirits to Zorro, I have reveled in her quixotic, sensual, unabashedly sprawling explorations of family ties, the toll and joys of love in all its diverse forms, and the independent spirit of the immigrant. DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE was the book selected by Oprah for her book club and of course it garnered enormous acclaim; while I bought it, it was another that sat on my shelf unread, for some inexplicable reason. Nevertheless, the wait was worth it. Infused with Ms Allende's trademark turns of phrase ("fate lashed its tail and changed her life forever") and cast of eccentric characters driven by private obsessions, this novel takes place in the 1800s, starting in Chile with the discovery of a baby in a soap crate, left on the threshold of the very proper but secret-riddled English family of the Sommers. The child, named Eliza, is raised by the delightful wasp-waisted Ms Rose Sommers, indoctrinated in the limited methods a girl can employ to survive in their rarefied society; but when Eliza falls passionately and unexpectedly in love with a common clerk, she flees the safe emptiness of her cloistered existence for feral California, embarking on an adventure that awakens her to life's vast potential and cracks the fragile veneer in which the Sommers themselves have dwelled. Ms Allende's deft pen conjures to vivid, humane life both the hypocrisy of Victorian mores in South America as well as the savage abandon of the Gold Rush; her cast is wide and diverse, ranging from the mourning Chinese physician who accompanies Eliza to a caravan of prostitutes led by a transgender humanitarian. Very few writers today can claim the mastery of color and depth of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work; I humbly suggest that Ms Allende is definitely one of them.
THE SHEEN ON THE SILK by Anne Perry
Anne Perry departs from her bestselling Victorian mysteries for this epic, yet at times uneven, tale of 13th century Byzantium featuring a female physician who disguises herself as a eunuch to uncover the truth about her twin's involvement in the assassination of a politician. Still reeling from a Venetian-led assault that devastated its populace and exiled its imperial family, Byzantium is a city of crumbling secrets, besieged noble families, and labyrinthine intrigues; into this dangerous yet seductive crossroads between East and West enters Anna, a.k.a. Anastasius, determined to prove her brother's innocence. While Anna's story is compelling in and of itself, it is her patroness Zoe, an aging but still beautiful noblewoman intent on revenge, who steals the plot — seductive, lethal, and uncompromising, Zoe has never forgotten the debt that Venice has incurred for destroying the city, even as her own past is haunted by tragedy and violence. Woven throughout the novel's ambitious narrative are various supporting characters, including a conflicted Roman priest whose contact with Byzantium throws his own faith into question; a Venetian sailor seeking his hidden past; and a spiritually pliant bishop of the Orthodox faith determined to prevent ecclesiastical union with Rome. Perry excels in her characterizations and in creating an ambiance that shifts easily between the gilded corridors of Byzantium’s sea-scented palaces to the corrupt intrigues of the Vatican to the arid expanse of the Sinai desert; however, at times her pacing can be challenging both because of the wide cast of characters and the novel's meditations on the meaning of religion in a world overcome by upheaval.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
However, for me, both pieces exude a slight whiff of troubling elitism prevalent within the genre. It's almost as if historical novelists must justify the reason for their work while being divided into categories: the literary; the commercially popular; and, well, the rest. While we cannot deny a class status within the genre, as in all forms of writing, I believe there are more deserving novelists working in the arena of historical fiction than just the ubiquitous nominees. There seems to be a general reluctance to acknowledge this fact, as if in doing so we might risk opening the floodgates to a tidal wave of undesirables who will inundate our shelves; as if by paring the list to a few well-heeled and universally acclaimed names, we can restrain the growth of this rather checkered genre and keep it in its proper place, so to speak.
Surely the time has come to cease casting aspersions based on a tarnished past? Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Georgette Heyer, et al are our grand dames, who deserve respect, if nothing else, for popularizing a genre mired in 19th century convention. While few today would deem their books as serious literary endeavors, they remain compulsively readable. Even more important, these hard-working, prolific novelists helped make the genre accessible to thousands of readers who otherwise might never have picked up, much less read, an historical novel.
The archaic confusion between romance novels with historical settings—where the romantic interaction always assumes precedence over history— and the current vogue in novels featuring real historical figures appears to be a partial culprit in our current elitist stance. No one, it seems, wants to be caught dead being dubbed the descendant of a bodice ripper. Nor do some literary-aspiring novelists want to be caught dead doing the “marquee name” while others, conversely, shun stories about ordinary people living in the past, with nary a guttering beeswax candle or flicker of velvet in sight.
But in truth, these divisions are blurring. While it can be said we’re experiencing an overemphasis on queens, which in turn risks exposing the genre to all the historic criticisms leveled against it, such as lack of veracity, distortion of facts, etc., the genre is also more popular than ever— and that in and of itself is a remarkable feat, a testament to the fact that readers love what we write and there is room for variations on a theme.
I’m all for excellence in our craft; indeed, I strive for it. I just feel there is more of it around us than the rest of the world wants to admit and we must celebrate our diversity, rather than merely exalt our loftiest achievements.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
I'll be visiting the following blogs:
June 21 - Cafe of Dreams
June 21 -Bags, Books and Bon Jovi
June 21 - Teresa's Reading Corner
June 22 - Bookgirl's Nightstand
June 22 - One More Paragraph
June 22 - Celtic Lady Reviews
June 22- Medieval Bookworm
June 23 - A Room Without Books Is So Empty
June 23 - So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
June 24 - Epic Rat
June 24 - Review from Here
June 25 - My Friend Amy
June 25 - The Eclectic Reader
June 25 - Tribute Books Reviews
Sunday, June 13, 2010
June 14 - Wonders and Marvels. Enter to win one of 3 copies of the book!
June 14- The Bluestocking Society
June 15- Savvy Verse and Wit
June 15- The Book Faery Reviews
June 16- The Review Stew
June 16 - Literary Lolita
June 17- Acting Balanced
June 17- Life in Review
June 18 - Review from Here
June 18 - The Introverted Reader
Friday, June 11, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
June 8 http://rebecca2007.wordpress.com
June 9 http://bookingmama.blogspot.com
June 10 http://literarilyspeaking.net
June 11 http://writingren.blogspot.com
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Now, MJ is offering readers a limited edition silver Phoenix pin, courtsey of The Burton Review. Fans of the series will recognize the pin's significance; others can simply enjoy its beauty. To enter, head over to The Burton Review where Marie Burton is also offering a great post on MJ's books, including the book trailer. Good luck!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
June 1 http://www.thehotauthorreport.com/
June 1 http://womenslit.bellaonline.com/
June 2 http://thisbookforfree.com/?p=1737
June 2 http://www.rundpinne.com/
June 3 http://thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/
June 3 http://amusingreviews.blogspot.com/
June 4 http://heatherlo.wordpress.com/
June 7 http://www.pumpupyourbook.com/
And speaking of giveaways, here's one together with a very nice review from A Musing Review!
Hope you can join me on tour. I look forward to seeing you.