Review: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin (Five Star Mystery #1) ~ Alana J. White

weeping virginRomance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin‚ an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his nephew‚ Amerigo‚ are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid’Antonio’s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God’s displeasure with Guid’Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere‚ Guid’Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting’s mystifying—and miraculous?—tears‚ all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons

3 Thumbs-UpThis is this Authors debut novel in the realm of historical fiction and, as much as I enjoy good historical fiction, I just couldn’t get into this one at all.  I think it was a case of the classic line ‘it’s me, honestly, not you’.

To say the cast of characters in this book is immense would be an under-statement, and I felt at times it would have helped me along in my reading if there had been a character list printed in the front of the book; I have a sneaky feeling that many other readers who pick up this book may feel the same way too.  Although none of the characters stand out in the book, they are interesting to say the least, and the main protagonist is very interesting; he is cranky, complicated, lonely and extremely loyal; all traits which seemed at odds to the world in which he was living, a world where loyalty seemed to be as fleeting as the wind.

Despite the indication in the synopsis that this may have edged into the realms of a genre I never read, I found there to be little to no romance in this book; there is no love in the traditional sense of the word and no homoerotic longings as can often take place in a novel of this kind.  What there is however is political intrigue by the boatload, and this made the book a compelling read and was, for me, the saving grace that earned the rating of 3 thumbs as opposed to it being lower.

It is obvious that the Author has done a lot of research into this era in Florence’s history, and I found this interesting and educating as I did not know about some of the historical details touched upon in the novel.  I felt this was helped by the fact that the main protagonist was actually a real-life figure in these times, and this added more realism to the descriptions used and the events encountered in the book.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction but particularly those who like a good solid mystery that is full of political intrigue.

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Review: Sojourner ~ Lee Foust

Sojourner

Sojourner gathers short stories, poems, experiments, and prose poems from the author’s 25 years spent traveling, sojourning, and then residing in various US and European cities. Each of the multiform texts of Sojourner seek to engage the mystery of our experience of place, our sense of belonging, and our desire to escape into unknown territories. Of the many voices included in the collection, we hear from teenagers in obscure California suburbs, San Francisco apartment hunters and soon-to-be-unfaithful boyfriends, European backpackers, junkies, prostitutes, South American refugees, mourners in Texas, revolutionaries in Brooklyn, dreaming Manhattan barflies, Arctic lovers, victims of Vesuvian politics and Partenopean trash bags, a refiguration of Poe’s amontillado-tippling Fortunato, Florentine ghosts, Tuscan expatriates lost in summertime reveries, and the Mad Hatnik in Poznan, Poland, along with his evil doppleganger and imaginary accomplice.

 5 Thumbs-UpI feel like I have just returned from travelling, full of all the wonders I saw, and the flip side of life that can bring us down.

Such is the way this book of poems, short stories and other gems affects the reader.  As it is an anthology of different writing styles by the same Author, there are no characters to dissect or explain; no plot that needs to be waded through, just the unadulterated pleasure of reading words artfully and expertly strung together in a manner that will touch all readers in some fashion. The covers both front and back, are endowed with beautiful glossy photographs, that make you immediately know that this book is going to be something quite extraordinary, and worth your time to investigate.

‘House Hunting’, the first short in this anthology, sets the scene delightfully for what is to come as we travel the world with, and experience it through, the writers’ eyes. And, a story most of us can relate to as we try to find our own ‘castle’ in the world. ‘Sparagmos’ takes us a whole new direction, as do most of the pages as the reader turns them, and was my favourite prose poem in the book.  Another favourite of mine, was ‘American Cemetery’.  Having visited several of these while we were living in Europe it was easy to feel the underlying conflict between beliefs and decency, an indication of just how well this outstanding collection is written.  As always when visiting one of these sites, I take the time to reflect over what has gone, and what we have now; this is also captured well in the lines of the piece and made me take a few moments in its reading for some gentle meditation on the aspects of war.

There is not much I can say about this collection, without going through it here page by page, and then nullifying any need you have to read it for yourself, and you do need to read it for yourself.  There are pieces that will offend the overly sensitive, but there always is in good writing; this is good writing. It is full of hope, despair, horror, humour and seduction.  Most of the contents are easily understandable upon the first read but, like an onion, they contain several levels and it is worth the time to revisit them and gradually peel those levels away.

I am highly recommending this to anyone who likes short stories, poems or just exploring something new.  I have carried this in my messenger bag from the day I first opened its covers to dip in and out of when I had a break in my schedule, and will probably continue to do so until it falls to pieces, maybe I need to buy another copy for when this day comes, as every time I read something it contains, I find a new viewpoint that I hadn’t considered before.

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