Buried in the Crackpot file: a review of The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky

In The Stonehenge Letters, Harry Karlinsky gleefully blends fact and fiction into what might be the most original book you’ll read this year.

18406176

“I share in confidence that a year ago I chose to will the bulk of my fortune to the formation of a series of prizes. These will be for worthy individuals whose works have benefited mankind…I now plan to will part of my fortune for the creation of an addition prize—to be awarded to the outstanding man or woman amongst these prizewinners who can solve the mystery of Stonehenge.

– The Stonehenge Letters, Harry Karlinsky

Harry Karlinsky gleefully blends fact and fiction into what might be the most original book you’ll read this year. The Stonehenge Letters seems like a straightforward, serious piece of nonfiction about a bit of unknown history. Our narrator, a lifelong Freudian devotee, is researching why Freud was never awarded a Nobel Prize. In the archives, he comes across the Knäppskalle, or “Crackpot” files. Primarily the home of crazy submissions to the Nobel Prize, the narrator also discovers letters and documents from a secret competition: a quest to solve the mystery of Stonehenge. Which mystery of Stonehenge?, you may ask. The vagueness of the question leads to widely different approaches to and interpretations of the question from no less than Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt, Marie Curie, and other great minds of the early 1900s.

Continue reading “Buried in the Crackpot file: a review of The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky”

Advertisements

DeeBrief review: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones

On a sunny day in a Welsh village in 1924, Wilfred Price finds himself so beguiled by the lemon-curd yellow dress worn by his charming date, he proposes marriage to her—quite by accident.

Wilfred Price

“‘He looked at her fingers which were already purple and bloated, and wondered if Howard Carter had had this problem with Tutankhamun.
‘There was a tomb that Tutankhamun had!’ he remarked to Mrs. Howell-Thomas. ‘Absolutely magnificent!’
“what are you talking about in there, Wilfred?’ said his da, who was sitting on the flowerbed wall, drinking his tea. ‘Are you talking to a corpse again?'”

– The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price,
Purveyor of Superior Funerals, Wendy Jones

On a sunny day in a Welsh village in 1924, Wilfred Price finds himself so beguiled by his surroundings, his picnic lunch, and the lemon-curd yellow dress worn by his charming date, he proposes marriage to her—quite by accident. Though Wilfred tries to take it back, events conspire against him. Grace Reese, it turns out, is secretly pregnant and the proposal is a godsend that will save this doctor’s daughter’s reputation. Word gets out immediately of the proposal (and the pregnancy), and she can’t bring herself to tell her anyone it was a mistake. Wilfred, meanwhile, is a newly minted undertaker, trying to establish himself as a trusted name and grow his business. He can’t afford to tarnish his reputation with rumours either. And when the lovely Flora calls on him to bury her father, he finds himself drawn into a triangle that is deceptively complex.

Continue reading “DeeBrief review: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, by Wendy Jones”

All the hovering possibilities: a review of Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Violent political realities in Sierra Leone and their lasting physical and psychological traumas form the backdrop of Michael Wuitchik’s gritty debut My Heart is not My Own. neck.

Frog Music

“By evening, the heat of the day has thickened like a smell. P’tit finally falls into a snuffling doze in her locked arms.
A tap at the door. . . Jenny Bonnet, the pool of purple around her eye faded to greenish yellow, the swelling gone down. It was only two days ago when the thug walloped her chez Durand, Blache calculates. That was in Blanche’s old life, before she brought P’tit home.”

– Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

San Francisco, 1876: During an unbearable heat wave and a dangerous outbreak of smallpox, Blanche Beunon bends over to unlace her boots and bullets fly over her head, killing her new friend Jenny Bonnet almost instantly. Blanche is sure her lover and his best friend are behind it, that the bullets were meant for her. Jenny, a prototypical coucher surfer who makes her living catching frogs for restaurants and has done jail time for her habit of wearing men’s clothing, was simply in the wrong place. But can it be more than that? From the notorious House of Mirrors where Blanche dances to Chinatown where she and her lover live, Frog Music draws a picture both bright and bleak of post–Gold Rush San Francsico and brings to life a real unsolved murder.

Continue reading “All the hovering possibilities: a review of Frog Music by Emma Donoghue”

Romantic improvisation: a review of Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell

Violent political realities in Sierra Leone and their lasting physical and psychological traumas form the backdrop of Michael Wuitchik’s gritty debut My Heart is not My Own. neck.

Vienna Nocturne

“Anna had seen many virtuosi play. Wolfgang Mozart surpassed them all. He exhaled, and so many breathing notes unfurled from his unhesitating hands. He played as she had always wished to sing—how she imagined she might sing if she were not so excitable and striving, but selfless and assured, bound to music alone.

– Vienna Nocturne, Vivien Shotwell

In the late 1700s, a young English soprano sets sail with her overprotective mother to find fame and fortune on the Italian stage. And find them Anna Storace does with the company at La Scala Opera House. In Vienna Nocturne, by opera singer Vivien Shotwell, we follow “L’inglesina” from her carefree heights in Milan to Austria where great suffering, great love, and the incomparable Mozart await her under the watchful reign of Joseph II.

It’s easy to throw on some “soothing” Mozart when we’re reading or studying, or to think of Mozart’s music as old-fashioned. But debut novelist Shotwell allows us to peek behind the curtain of one of the greatest moments in operatic history, giving us a keen reminder of the drama, personalities, and political intrigue at play as this music was being composed. Based on the real life of the celebrated soprano who originated the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Vienna Nocturne is about not just the passion in the music, but an illicit love affair between Anna and the married upstart composer Wolfgang Mozart.

Continue reading “Romantic improvisation: a review of Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell”

A review of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley

Flavia’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Vaulted Arches

“She stuck out a pale hand and touched each of them in turn on the forearm.
As she turned her head Flavia-wards, she gave me 
such a glare!
Feely had the knack of being able to screw one side of her face into a witchlike horror while keeping the other as sweet and demure as any maiden from Tennyson. It was, perhaps, the one thing I envied her.”

– The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is a tough book to review without giving too much away. Book five, Speaking from Among the Bones, ended with a major cliffhanger, and this book picks up with a serious plot reveal. Forgive my vagueness, then: I don’t want to ruin the emotional impact for you with spoilers. Within the first chapter, I gasped several times in surprise. In the sixth installment of the wonderfully entertaining Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley, our heroine Flavia is now nearly twelve. She’s had a hell of a year, finding murdered bodies everywhere from her own garden to the church crypt. She’s met ageing philatelists, ciné folk, fortune tellers, puppeteers, and a flora-archaeologist, all while dealing with being the youngest sister in a family whose mother disappeared when Flavia was only a baby.

Old questions are going to be answered in this book, but there’s still plenty of juicy mystery. Who is the young man who gives Flavia a garbled message and then winds up dead beneath the train? Why is Winston Churchill there, and what is his cryptic message to Flavia about? Just what were the elder de Luces up to during World War II? And what do pheasant sandwiches have to do with it all?

Continue reading “A review of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley”

Penguin Canada’s Daily Delights: a review of In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

BloggerBadge_Penguin

Part of Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights!

In Falling Snow

“When I came into the ward later in the morning on my way to reception, another was in the boy’s bed. I saw Miss Ivens on her way back to the theatre. I asked her what had happened and she said the end had been peaceful. ‘Sometimes that’s all you can do,’ she said. She must have read the sadness in my face. ‘It’s enough,’ she said. ‘Sometimes you can’t even given them that. And that’s the hardest of all.’

– In Falling Snow, Mary-Rose MacColl

An elderly Australian woman receives an invitation that brings memories flooding back from a time in her life she has tried hard to forget. She imagines being a young woman, in a field hospital in France, watching in wonder the first snowfall she has ever seen. That wonder suffuses the starker landscape of a France at war, of young men dying and strong women doing all they can to save them. Mary-Rose MacColl’s North American debut In Falling Snow is a beautiful World War I tale and a thoughtful meditation on the slippery nature of memory, as well as the roles of women in family, friendship, work, and war across the 20th century.

Continue reading “Penguin Canada’s Daily Delights: a review of In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl”

Never to be told: a review of Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. And whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.Seven for a Secret

“Whimpering, Varker looked up at Val and made a timid effort to pull his hand free.
We heard a grind of loose bone, followed by a tiny shriek. My throat constricted.
My brother is a dangerous man.
‘I haven’t been paying attention,’ Val remarked in a conversational manner. ‘Damned if there wasn’t something else on my mind. So tell me—what play were you aiming to make with that snapper, drawing it like a heathen without a fair warning?'”

– Seven for a Secret, Lyndsay Faye

In Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret, it is 1840s New York City, where crime, social tensions, and playing-for-keeps politics form a potent, sometimes deadly milieu. Floods of Irish immigrants are arriving daily to escape the potato famine; people die of starvation with regularity, and there isn’t enough work to go around. Excitement, danger, and various illegalities are the norm, and Timothy Wilde, copper star of the newly minted New York Police Department, is doing his best to figure out whodunit. But whodunit? is never an easy question in this twisty, brilliantly plotted world.

Continue reading “Never to be told: a review of Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye”