I've been a fan of C.W. Gortner's books long before I met and befriended him at a conference, and Marlene Dietrich is perhaps my favorite of his heroiI've been a fan of C.W. Gortner's books long before I met and befriended him at a conference, and Marlene Dietrich is perhaps my favorite of his heroines. She comes to life on the page: a swearing smoking bisexual goddess of sin. From her early days as schoolgirl violinist to her sashay through the Berlin cabarets of the 30s all the way to her meteoric rise through golden age Hollywood, she fascinates: honest enough to say she doesn't really have much in the way of acting talent; determined enough to succeed anyway; a self-made beauty whose remarkable charisma collected numberless admirers. Famous men and women parade in and out of Marlene's bed and life; she is refreshingly direct in her enjoyment of sex, and Gortner never slut-shames--he shows Marlene's tremendous gift for friendship as she remains friends with her ex-lovers and never stints to help when they are in trouble. Her unflinching stand against Nazism and her final triumph as darling of the USO tours and the American GIs is mesmerizing . . . and her final page stays with me, poignant and triumphant. Marlene Dietrich is larger than life here, and yet also very, very human. ...more
Finally getting around to writing a review for this stunning book. I encountered it because the author and I were both keynote speakers at a literaryFinally getting around to writing a review for this stunning book. I encountered it because the author and I were both keynote speakers at a literary festival in Chicago; curiosity had me picking up a copy, and soon I was up till 2am turning pages. Not only is Renee Ahdieh a helluva nice person, she can flat-out write.
Fairy-tale retellings are nothing new - Cinderella in Regency England, Rapunzel in space, The Ugly Duckling in 20th century high school. But mostly we see European fairy-tales being told, and really, it is about damn time someone delved the rich legacy of stories further east. "The Wrath and the Dawn" is a YA historical fantasy retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights. All the familiar elements are here: a Caliph who murders a new bride every dawn and the resourceful storyteller who charms life out of him a night and a story at a time, but add a dash of magic, a dark curse, and an impending war, and the stakes grow infinitely higher.
Heroine Shahrzad is a delight: a tough, clever, bitter girl willing to use her wits, her body, and every other weapon in her arsenal to exact vengeance for the death of her cousin, who is the latest victim in the parade of brides to march into the Caliph's bedroom and out to an executioner's garrotte by dawn. Shahrzad volunteers to be next, hoping to exact revenge on the man she quite logically views as a monster . . . but as the nights pass and the stories flow, it becomes clear that more is going on than she ever anticipated. The Caliph is less a monster than a tormented boy stranded bleakly between a rock and a hard place; he has no desire to murder his brides, so why is he doing it?
Unraveling the mystery takes Shahrzad and her tortured husband on a rollercoaster chase through Khorasan, a fictional land recognizably Arabian in its vivid depiction. The jewels sparkle, the sand grits, the perfume intoxicates, the food is mouthwatering, and the end is a dark cliffhanger. I cannot wait for the sequel "The Rose and the Dagger," coming in April. ...more
This book will probably make my year-end Top 10 list. A taut, atmospheric thriller with more twists and turns than a Whitechapel alley, plunging intoThis book will probably make my year-end Top 10 list. A taut, atmospheric thriller with more twists and turns than a Whitechapel alley, plunging into the seamy underbelly of Victorian London. At first absolutely no one is likeable in this tale, certainly not protagonist Sue, a young thief who enters into a queasy scheme to help a con man marry an heiress and then lock her up in a mad-house to claim her fortune. Everyone has a secret and nothing is what it seems: not Sue, not her unscrupulous con-man partner, not even the apparently pathetic Maud who is the mark. Sarah Waters whip-lashes the reader in brutal plot turn-arounds not just once but twice, and accomplishes the impossible in making us empathize deeply with characters we at first despised. The atmosphere is all-enveloping, the plot an intricate marvel, and the tender romance that grows between two brutalized women is a heart-breaker. One of the best books I've read all year. ...more
"Infamy is merely an accident of fate . . . [but] infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia."
First and las"Infamy is merely an accident of fate . . . [but] infamy is no accident. It is a poison in our blood. It is the price of being a Borgia."
First and last lines of the shiver-inducing prologue in Christopher W. Gortner's sumptuous THE VATICAN PRINCESS, a dark, troubling, sumptuous character dive into one of Gortner's most unique heroines. What struck me about Lucrezia Borgia as opposed to any of his other ladies (Juana la Loca, Catherine de'Medici, Isabella of Castile) is that for the most part, they viewed themselves as moral women doing their best with the circumstances they are given, surprised or despairing or grimly accepting of the evil rumors that end up clinging to their hems. They might do morally questionable things, but they are pushed into it by circumstance and still want to do right. They are for the most part unfairly painted black by rumor, and they know it.
Lucrezia, by contrast, does not view herself as unstained or slandered. She sees the capacity for violence rooted in her family and in her own nature; a concrete thing, not a product of the scandal machine. Her struggle isn't against revisionist history unfairly painting her as wicked and corrupt; her struggle is not to BECOME wicked and corrupt. This isn't a book about the politics of the day; who the French fought and what the papal rulings were--and it's not a book about a pretty girl wearing pretty dresses to pretty palace parties and looking for love, either. Inside the shell of papal politics and gorgeous Renaissance settings, it's an extremely personal story about a girl fighting to save her own soul. And yet it's done without painting Pope Alexander or Cesare Borgia as one-dimensional baddies, either - both are sympathetic in turn, as they struggle with the same dilemma as Lucrezia. They're just further along the same path. And it's a riveting path, watching to see where they all fetch up.
Incest and poison, murder and rape are all touched on here, though I'll leave the how, who, and why a mystery. They're dealt with unflinchingly, introduced for deep character reasons and not merely thrown in for titillation and shock value. These are violent times and violent people, and the story of one girl's struggle to transcend the violence. Marvelous. ...more
Patsy Jefferson isn't a famous figure in American history, but she should be: everything that we know about her father Thomas Jefferson--and the natioPatsy Jefferson isn't a famous figure in American history, but she should be: everything that we know about her father Thomas Jefferson--and the nation he shaped--came to us through the hands of his daughter, who saw her life's work as shielding his legacy. Her life is chronicled through the years as her father's helpmeet, steadfastly at his side through the revolutionary years in France, the White House years acting as his First Lady, and his old age when the nation he helped found hit its growing pains. The research is meticulous, the writing marvelous, and the uglier aspects of the time period (slavery and its manifold evils) are not swept under the rug or glossed over. An absorbing, compelling read!
*I am acquainted with the authors, but became an honest fan of their work years before I met them in person and became friends. My review is honest and unbiased. ...more
Donna Russo Morin takes us on an irresistible headlong adventure in PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY. When a ruthless assassination rocks Renaissance FlorenceDonna Russo Morin takes us on an irresistible headlong adventure in PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY. When a ruthless assassination rocks Renaissance Florence to its core, a secret sisterhood of women artists band together to save one of their own from the bloody reprisals. Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and a young Leonardo da Vinci all have their part to play in this delicious, heart-pounding tale. This one had me yearning for the Renaissance all over again!