Tuesday, April 20, 2010

16. THE ISLAND UNDER THE SEA - Isabel Allende

Published first in Spanish, this book's English release was pushed back after the earthquake in Haiti. However, now is the perfect time to read about the beginning of the Haitian culture with its mix of freedom and oppression. Seeing the poverty during the telethons did not share its historical grace and pride: this was the first country to be recognized as a free black union during a time when Marie Antoinette and her prince lost their heads during the revolution. What an amazing historical time to write about.

However, the state of "French" life in Haiti, known as Saint-Domingue, was quite different in the late 1790s. Life revolved around the sugar and rum plantations. You were a white planter or businessman, a mulatto soldier or madame, or a black slave. According to Allende, at one point, there were only about 30,000 free souls compared to half a million slaves on the small island.

All of this is background to the story of Tete, who is sold to Toulouse Valmorain as a maid to his wife. Later, Tete becomes the backbone of the inner workings of the plantation, and Valmorain relies on her as he would a mistress.

But Tete's heart does not beat hard for her master; instead, she falls for one of the revolutionaries. In typical Allende style, all of the intertwinings of plot bob and weave until a somewhat predictable ending. This time, however, I was not convinced, as I had been when I read Daughter of Fortune. This time, I thought the ending was rushed, and many of the the braids loosened.

Still, for a spring/summer read, this is a fascinating look at history in both Haiti and New Orleans, where many of the refugees relocated after the revolution. I always love a brainy, sexy read.

3.75 out of 5.0 Island Martinis.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

15. THE CREATION OF EVE - Lynn Cullen

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of Michelangelo's only female students during his lifetime. While this novel provides the fictional stories of this time of "Sofi"'s life, it should not underestimate the amazing skill and talent of a female artist during the Renaissance.

This book is why I adore historical fiction.

Sofi must flee Rome and the tutorials of Michelangelo after falling in love with one of the male students. She becomes the drawing instructor for Elisabeth de Valois, the French queen of Spain's King Felipe II. He holds almost all of the power in Europe at this time, yet even he cannot impregnate his young bride.

Soon, Sofi becomes the queen's favorite, and she is drawn into both silly and dangerous adventures. The king's power is demonstrated when it appears that his knowledge of plants, and their properties to kill, assist in the murder of his mistress's husband.

Between fear of the king and the Inquisition, Sofi tries to remain silent and protective of her queen. However, can she save her from her fate? And, can Sofi find the part of herself that can paint again?

It is a truly wonderful story, and the author's explanations for her translation of events in the last chapter made me keel over with admiration.

4.0 out of 5.0 Parson's Passions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Into metafiction? Have I found a book for you.
Horatio casts Hamlet, a student at Wittenberg University, in a play for the wealthy merchant Baron de Maricourt. Soon, the baron's wife, Lady Adriane, becomes entangled in the affair, and not long after the arrival of a certain Will Shake-spear further complicates matters in the play and in love affairs.
Some of the Shakespearean references may fly completely over the reader's head; in fact, some of the references make it difficult to understand the novel unless you know your Shakespeare upside-down and sideways.
But, if you like this, and you like metafiction, and you like threeways and a bit of unique writing, give it a go. Though not my cuppa, it might fill you to the brim.