Tag Archives: Family

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa translated by Archibald Colquhoun

What pushes a piece of literature from a mere book into a work of art? Is it the ability to construct a significant moment in time transporting us to another era? Is it the exquisitely expressive language making the surroundings come alive? Or is it the richness of the characters spawning a three dimensional persona which transcends the words on the page?

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is a novel which demonstrates all of the above and more. Perhaps it’s because the story is based on the life of Lampedusa’s Great Grandfather as well as the Palace outside his home of Palmero which was bombed during World War II. Perhaps it’s because The Leopard explores the ramifications of the reunification of Italy, focusing on Garibaldi who overthrew the monarchy and was then himself overthrown. Perhaps it’s because the author had lived through two world wars and was full of memories of a different time when being an aristocrat represented a noble dignity which was revered by the common folk.

In any case, Lampedusa spent the last few years of his life creating a piece of literature which was eventually considered one of the greatest Italian novels of the twentieth century, winning the Premio Strega in 1959. Unfortunately, these accolades came too late, since he was unsuccessful in finding anyone willing to publish this book during his lifetime.

Don Fabrizio is a Sicilian Prince from Salina watching the aristocratic way of life fading away during a series of political upheavals in 1865. A dreamer, forced to focus on his day to day responsibilities, he finds refuge in watching the stars and studying mathematics, a past time disdained by the common man but excused in someone so distinguished and revered. The Prince has been brought up with refined sensibilities, polite to a fault, and observing all the niceties of nobility, attributes he finds lacking in his own sons. It’s his charismatic nephew, Tancredi Falconari, who has the qualities to carry on the tradition. Fabrizio, at the age of forty five, looks back on his life contemplating the past and reliving the glory days via the romance between Tancredi and the bewitching Angelica Sedara. When Angelica kisses the middle-aged Don on the check and calls him uncle, he gladly gives her a piece of his heart.

The climax of the plot is not the Leopard’s death at the age of seventy +, but the ball he attends where he sees his former lovers, now old like him, and laments his lost youth. Hiding away in the library, Tancredi and Angelica find him and drag him back to the party where he, an excellent dancer, has one waltz with his beautiful niece-to-be, becoming the focus of attention for a roomful of admirers who spontaneously break into applause. Not wanting to be a third wheel, he resists their pleas to join them for supper and instead stands in the corner watching their mutual devotion while eating a decadent dessert. In the movie, starring an all Italian cast (except for lead actor, Burt Lancaster), this scene is the major focus of the film.

In the end all that’s left are his elderly three daughters trying to hang on to what remains of their family dignity via the private religious services in the family chapel. Connecting their bittersweet past to “modern times” is the pelt of their long deceased papa’s favorite dog, Bendico. In order to move forward, leaving unrequited grievances behind, this symbol must be discarded. After all, it’s all about things “changing in order that they may remain the same”.

This book is so rich in imagery and content that my remarks fail to do it justice. Amazingly, Archibald Colquhoun captures the melancholy essence of Lampedusa’s words in his translation. In fact, the reader would never guess that the original was not written in English. While there isn’t a lot of action, the strong presence of the characters, especially The Prince, carries the plot. Five stars.

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The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Since The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is a murder mystery of sorts, it’s difficult to summarize without resorting to spoilers. Suffice it to say that daughter Laurel Nicolson witnessed her mother Dorothy murder a man when she was sixteen and now that her elderly mom is on her death bed, the sixty plus year old daughter decides this is her last chance to discover the truth. Her brother Geoffrey, a babe in his mother’s arms, was celebrating his second birthday, so he only has a vague feeling that something untoward happened on that date. Now, fifty years later, Laurel decides it’s finally time to clue him in so they can work together to figure out the details of their mom’s past.

Moving back and forth through time, from the present (2011) to the strife of wartime London (1941) to life as part of a loving family with five children (1961) and various years in between, the plot unfolds giving us bits and pieces of the tale – like a giant jig saw puzzle which has just enough blank spaces so that the big picture remains unrecognizable. Unfortunately, it takes way too many pages to discover the truth, and not until the disconcerting ending does the story finally come together.

While there are some obscure clues at the beginning of the book, by the time their relevance is revealed we’ve forgotten the details. With a slow start which doesn’t pick up until much later in the narration, I feel the main problem is the characterizations. The self absorbed Dolly is just plain unlikeable and at times her actions are despicable. She’s not the only one portrayed in a bad light. Laurel, a famous actress, is not a warm and fuzzy figure, even if the reader is sympathetic to her quest. Her numerous siblings are one dimensional, although the quirky Geoffrey has been fleshed out a bit. While the main focus was developing the convoluted plot (there’s a lot of tragedy along the way providing some sort of logical explanation for the evolving action), I felt more time should have been spent providing some depth to the secondary personalities. In my mind, any book over four hundred pages needs to justify the extra length and despite the surprise ending, this one fell short.

Four stars (just barely and only because of the “twist”) but it could have been so much better with a little tweaking.

The Marquis and I (The Worthington, 4) by Ella Quinn

Lady Charlotte Carpenter has been kidnapped. She’s not worried, since she and her sister have taken lessons on self protection plus she has a gun in her basket (along with her docile traveling cat). If only she could get the lock picked in time to escape. In the meantime, her abduction has been witnessed and the butler has cornered Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, into going to the rescue as none of the men of the house are in the vicinity. Despite the inconvenience, Con’s chiverous upbringing necessitates he help this damsel in distress. Then there’s the young groomsman Jemmy, hitching a ride on the back of the coach, ready to assist in the rescue. Miss Betsy, a villain from previous books in The Worthington series, has convinced the innkeepers that the girls she sends their way are runaways needing to be reunited with their loved ones (actually paying customers who desire a particular woman). Constantine is able to rescue Charlotte, but somehow word gets out that they’ve been alone together and without a chaperone to vouch for their innocence, Con must marry his rescuee in order to save her from ruin. Charlotte, however, doesn’t want anything to do with the handsome Con who keeps bad company and has a mistress. Despite their public betrothal, she leads him on a merry chase, even allowing another suitor to publicly court her. Through a convoluted series of events, including a second revenge abduction, the two develop a mutual love and respect for each other and find the same happiness bequeathed on other members of the Worthington family.

While there was a good story somewhere in the Marquis and I by Ella Quinn, there was just too much busyness in a plot that seemed to drag on. The repetitive, mundane dialogue became annoying, despite the delightful characters (mainly the multitude of Charlotte’s younger brothers and sisters with their pets). The sexual encounter between the betrothed couple lacked the amorous touch although the experience made them want to move the wedding date forward. Charlotte’s insistence that she couldn’t marry Con because he had a mistress (even after he broke off that relationship and helped his former paramour restart a new life) and her other pigheaded attitudes made her the least likeable of all the Worthingtons and Constantine, despite his rowdy background, was rather docile through the entire story, especially considering all the crap thrown his way (although the little ones glommed onto him). While I usually read these Regency Romances quickly, this one dragged so much I had to force myself to pick up this book on more than one occasion. A plus was the inclusion of characters from previous books in The Worthington series and even some names from the The Marriage Game. If you’ve read through the majority of these publications, you’ll be familiar with many of the members of The Ton, from the memorable busybody, Lady Belamny, to the sought after dressmaker, Madame Lissette.

Still, shame on you, Ella Quinn. Next time take more care and edit your work into a more readable format and spice up that dialogue (and the sex). Two and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ice Wolves (Elementals, Book #1) by Amie Kaufman

Through the use of two rugrats, Amie Kaufman has found the means to introduce a new world. In Ice Wolves, Book One of the Elementals Trilogy, twelve year old orphans, Anders and Rayna, are swiftly making their way over the garden-like rooftops, avoiding the increasing number of check points on the streets, to the town square where a large group has assembled, perfect for their daily antics. Pick pocketing is an indispensable lifestyle to ensure survival on the streets where Rayna distracts while her twin brother extracts some coins from the victims’ pockets. Unfortunately, circumstances necessitate a change of plan and the two find themselves amongst others their age reaching for the staff which will determine their fate. So far none that day had been successful in their quest to become a part of the Wolf Guard, so Rayna, without a family history (at least none of which she is aware), is stunned when she shape-shifts into the enemy, a Scorch Dragon. Anders, beside himself, reaches for the staff, expecting to follow her as the same, but instead he shape shifts into one of the revered, an Ice Wolf.

How can this be? The role of Ice Wolf is inherited while only traitors become Scorch Dragons. Anders must muster up all his courage and find his sister who he knows is not the enemy, even though as an Ice Wolf he is required to destroy the evil dragons. Assigned to Ulfar Academy, full of the luxuries (like food, clothing, and a warm place to sleep) his former way of life lacked, the shy Anders must learn all that he can to find a way to rescue his beloved sister. He develops some friendships in his pack where loyalty and obedience are a key requirement. Yet, where should your loyalty lie when you discover that there’s more to the story and the fight against the Scorch Dragons might be based on politically motivated disinformation and prejudices? All Anders knows is that his fealty will always be with Rayna, and his number one goal must take precedence over his role as Ice Wolf.

Ice Wolves follows the basic formula for preteen readers – youngsters (after discovering the deceit of adults) take it upon themselves to save the day. Kaufman has a talent for bringing the characters alive and connecting them to the readers who find themselves rooting for a successful outcome. This will definitely appeal to the middle school crowd, including some advanced elementary aged students, as well as those in high school. Its short length is a plus with an ending which will draw them into the next book of the series. Adults, once they accept the premise that twelve year olds rule, might also appreciate this well written tale.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Everybody has a secret, but when someone’s past interfere with the lives of others, it’s no longer a secret, it’s a crime. Then to make it all more interesting, add in a twist of the bizarre – perhaps a freak of nature, perhaps a supernatural phenomena, perhaps a curse perpetuated on all mankind hidden away until the right time to strike.

When would such an evil manifest itself? Just look at the hidden endangerments of our past, such as out in the wilderness of the California Trail from 1946-47 where travel was already fraught with jeopardy from the varieties of both human nature and the elements. Take a true story such as, The Donner Party, which already has a tendency to make the reader squeamish, then come up with an alternate explanation for the tragedy which took the lives of half the pioneers heading west through the treacherous Hastings Cutoff and the Sierra Nevada, made even more deadly by the brutal winter, and add in an evil lurking along the trail.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu intertwines historical facts with a fictional explanation to create an aberrant account depicting the lives of a group of travelers heading to California. Put ninety people (young and old, haves and have nots, families and loners) together and there’s bound to be trouble, even without a danger lurking in the background. Warning: don’t get too attached to any of the individual members of this trip, even the ones who sense what is happening, because their chances of survival are minimal.

At first I thought this was just another take on the Donner Party catastrophe, but then I began to realize this particular quirky tale was perhaps a bit more. The breezy style of the author rounded out the personalities of the numerous characters, adding extra details and motivations via letters or backstories from an earlier time. Although I knew the foregone conclusion, the author was able to put a different slant on the saga to keep me guessing right up to the end. My major complaint was the difficulty I had keeping track of all the names and identities of everyone in the story, which could have been easily solved by a brief annotated list or family tree of all the participants in the caravan. It need not be stated that the unanticipated shortage of supplies, along with an enemy with a voracious appetite, leant itself to a title indicating the need for food.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and Putnam Sons for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans (Book Eight, Disgraced Lords series)

Clarence Homestead was too good looking for his own comfort and he avoided the admiring glances from the females he encountered. Little did he expect to catch the eye of Lady Helen Hawkestone, the sister of his patroness, Marissa Maitland, the Duchess of Lyttleton. Although Clary has considered the beautiful Helen an angel ever since their first meeting five years prior (when he was awaiting news of the fate of the wounded Marisa), he knew that his low born life and past indiscretions nixed any thought of a relationship. His focus was on serving Maitland and his wife who together had rescued him from a sleazy existence in a brothel. In return, he acted as Her Grace’s personal secretary and overseer of the numerous orphanages the couple acquired and “renovated”.

Yet when Lady Helen decides to get involved in this charitable endeavor, Clary balked, not only because of his inner feelings of attraction, but to protect the innocent twenty three year old from the sordidness of life on the other side of aristocracy. His instincts were correct when the newest acquisition revealed a manager who more than dabbled in the human trafficking of children. At Helen’s urging, they not only rescued the most recent abduction but put a stop, at least temporarily, to these nefarious activities.

Helen, as stubborn as her unconventional sister Marissa, refuses to accept Clary’s objections to a future together, despite the revelation of his disreputable upbringing. After placing herself in numerous compromising situations, the two finally succumb to their mutual passion. Despite Helen’s feelings, convincing her over-protective, hot-headed brother Sebastian, the Marquess of Coldhurst, to sanction their relationship is an insurmountable task. A twist of fate necessitating a life or death rescue changes the dynamics leading to a relatively happily ever after for a couple who prefer a quiet life in the country to the scandal mongering attitudes of London and The Ton.

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans is the eighth book in the Disgraced Lords series. While you don’t need to have read the other seven books dealing with the Libertine Scholars and their romances to enjoy this one, I would recommend reading book four, A Whisper of Desire, to familiarize yourself with Marisa and Maitland’s unlikely marriage as well as the gritty details of the circumstances surrounding their involvement with a den of inquiry and the unfortunate experience which followed. The dark tone begun in this book is continued in book eight, which deals with the seedier side of life instead of focusing on the frivolities of a season in London. Of necessity is the constant reference to marrying the “wrong sort of person” which would lead to ostracism not only by polite society but even ones own family (in fear of their reputations being tarnished by association). Although 1820 is just past the era of the Prince Regent, I would still call this a Regency Romance.

While this action packed plot had such potential, the constant repetitious back and forth between Cary and Helen detracted from the whole. A bit of consolidating/editing would have definitely improved the tale, despite several hot and steamy scenes between the two lovebirds which are sure to entertain. Catching up with some of the Libertine Scholars and their wives was a definite plus for those of us who have been along for the ride from the beginning. Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.