“Noah’s Wife” by T. K. Thorne
From the back:
Noah’s wife is Na’amah, a beautiful, brilliant girl with a form of autism (now) known as Asperger’s. She wishes only to be a shepherdess on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey—a desire shattered by her powerful brother’s hatred, the love of two men, and a looming disaster only she knows is coming.
I got this book in the Historical Novel Society Conference goodie-bag and was intrigued. Asperger Syndrome runs in my family, so I was curious as to how T. K. Thorne would handle that aspect of her debut novel. She states in her “Acknowledgements” and “Postscript” that she doesn’t have AS and relied on research and particularly the writings of Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known speaker and writer on the topic. (Dr. Grandin is autistic.) For the most part, I felt Thorne got it right. As she notes, this is a neurological condition that runs a vast spectrum of behaviors and can present as a severe disability up to creative genius. Every person with AS presents differently, but they all share a common difficulty with social engagement. They are “clueless” until they figure out, or someone teaches them, the social rules that most children seem to absorb with no instruction. There’s no reason to believe AS didn’t exist in 5500 BCE, but, from a Darwinian point of view, it was probably very rare. Loners, folks who didn’t “belong” or conform to group norms, would have had a significant survival disadvantage. This is how Na’amah describes herself:
“My name, Na’amah, means pleasant or beautiful. I am not always pleasant, but I am beautiful. Perhaps that is why I am trundled atop this beast like a roll of hides for market and surrounded by grim-faced men. If my captors had bothered to ask me, I would have told them that their prize is of questionable value because my mind is damaged…Memories appear as images in my mind. Each word-sound I hear has its own color and shape and they fit together with the others in patterns that I can recall as easily as I can name every sheep on my hillside…I speak only truth, unwise as it may be, since lies distress me…my words and manner seem odd to other people. I am more comfortable with animals, who do not expect me to be any way than the way I am.” (more…)
“Alexandria” by Lindsey Davis
As anyone knows, who’s stopped by this blog, I’m a sucker for anything set in Alexandria, especially during the Roman period. I’ve studied the city for many years and it’s the setting for my first novel. So I’m continuing my Alexandria series with this book review and giveaway. I’ll post some more history later in the month. Lindsey Davis is well known for her Marcus Didius Falco historical mysteries and this one is number nineteen in the series. From the back cover:
“In A. D. 77 Marcus Didius Falco, private “informer” and stalwart Roman citizen, undertakes one of the most fearsome tasks known to man—he goes on vacation with his somewhat pregnant wife, Helena Justina, and their family. They travel to Alexandria, Egypt, and they aren’t there long before the Librarian of the great library is found dead under suspicious circumstances, in his office with the door locked from the inside.
Falco quickly finds himself on the trail of dodgy doings, malfeasance, deadly professional rivalry, more bodies, and the lowest of the low—book thieves! As the bodies pile up, it’s up to Falco to untangle this horrible mess before the killer begins to strike closer to home.” (more…)
“Anthony and Cleopatra” by Colleen McCullough
I’m on a bit of a Cleopatra kick. Last week I reviewed the biography Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. This week it’s a novel by Colleen McCullough. From the book jacket:
“Caesar is dead, and Rome is, again, divided. Lepidus has retreated to Africa, while Antony rules the opulent East, and Octavian claims the West, the heart of Rome, as his domain. Though this tense truce holds civil war at bay, Rome seems ripe for an emperor—a true Julian heir to lay claim to Caesar’s legacy. With the bearing of a hero, and the riches of the East at his disposal, Antony seems poised to take the prize. Like a true warrior-king, he is a seasoned general whose lust for power burns alongside a passion for women, feasts, and Chian wine. His rival Octavian, seems a less convincing candidate: the slight golden haired boy is as controlled as Antony is indulgent and as cool-headed and clear-eyed as Antony is impulsive. Indeed, the two are well- matched only in ambition.”
The Masters of Rome
Anthony and Cleopatra is the last of seven novels, collectively called the Masters of Rome series, covering the end of the Roman Republic in all its twisted glory. The result of this herculean task, is a legacy of some of the best researched historical fiction of this time; meticulously covering politics, battles, people, religious rites, traditions, trade, architecture, etc. The best books of the series draw the reader in with fascinating characters, Machiavellian plots, and scintillating detail. The worst give the reader the sense of reading an entertaining history book. Which is not, necessarily, a bad thing. McCullough had intended to end the saga with The October Horse, but avid fans prevailed and she concluded with this novel, which shows the final end of the Republic and beginning of Empire. (more…)
“Outlaw” by Angus Donald
As a kid, I fell in love with Robin Hood. Errol Flynn swashbuckling through the forest all clean and pretty. The collected stories I read over and over again. The 50’s TV show (written by blackballed Hollywood writers with a decided anti-McCarthyism bent) with the stirring theme song:
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
With his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.
Robin Hood Memorial at Nottingham by James Woodford
Okay, it’s more stirring with the music. (You can listen here.) Growing up, the legend of Robin Hood was everywhere as the ultimate hero who stood up for the little guy against evil oppressors: corrupt sheriffs and greedy churchmen. We all knew the stories of loyal Little John, the strong right hand man; tipsy Friar Tuck; Will Scarlet, handy with a sword; Alan A-Dale the minstrel; and the chaste, beautiful and smart Maid Marian, Robin’s enduring love. After stirring adventures, good King Richard arrives in time to pardon the outlaws, give them lands and titles and join Robin and Marian in marriage.
It’s an iconic tale of good vs. evil and happily-ever-afters that attracts artists back to the theme over and over. Numerous books have updated the story or tinkered with the timelines. Directors have put their own stamp on the story from the Mel Brooks’satirical “Men in Tights” to the most recent Ridley Scott entry, where yeoman Robin is responsible for the Magna Carta. It’s very hard to bring something new or fresh to the story.
Author Interview: Melanie McDonald
It’s been way too long since I posted an author interview on this blog, but finally found a great candidate. Melanie McDonald just published an acclaimed new literary historical novel Eronemos about Emperor Hadrian’s doomed young lover Antinous. From the back:
“Eros and Thanatos converge in this story of a glorious youth, an untimely death, and an imperial love affair that gives rise to the last pagan god of antiquity, Antinous.
In this coming-of-age novel set in second century Rome, the Greek youth Antinous of Bithynia recounts his seven-year affair with Hadrian, the fourteenth Roman emperor. In a partnership more intimate than Hadrian’s political marriage, Antinous captivates the most powerful ruler on the earth.
This version of the story of the emperor and his beloved ephebe envisions the life of the youth who after death achieved apotheosis as a pagan god whose cult of worship lasted for hundreds of years, and gives voice to Antinous, whose image still appears in museums around the world.”
Ms. McDonald not only agreed to an interview, but provided a signed copy as a giveaway (details at the end of the post.)
Faith L. Justice: I’m sure two of the first questions readers have for you is, “How do you pronounce the title?” and “What does it mean?” (more…)
“Latro in the Mist” by Gene Wolfe
I occasionally run across a book that challenges me; that makes me work for the story and enjoy the labor; that awes me with the craft of the writing. Usually these are considered “literary novels.” I also find a lot of literary novels tedious, because I’m partial to plot-driven stories. But Latro in the Mist surprised me. It’s a fantasy novel with gods and ghosts (which may not be real, see my discussion below.) It’s a historical novel about real events set in Greece in 479 B.C., and populated with historic characters. It’s also a finely crafted literary novel that makes the reader think beyond the story and characters about the nature of memory and self, friendship and loyalty, and the journey that is life. (more…)