Archive for August, 2007

The Religion by Tim Willcocks

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Some time back, I wrote bemoaning somewhat the the demise of the traditional historical novel in favor of the lush historical romances made popular by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I hoped when I picked up The Religion by Tim Willcocks that I had found an historical novel in the good old tradition of swash and buckle. In a way, I was not disappointed: this tale of the 1565 Turkish siege of the island of Malta, stronghold of the Knights of Saint John the Baptist, is full of action and adventure, and the historical detail, the details of the strategy and tactics of battle very full. In the end, for me however, the book had too much blood and gore, and sometimes the attitudes and emotions of the hero seemed to me too modern and perhaps even cliched.

The story starts when Matthias Tannhauser, son of a Saxon blacksmith witnesses the massacre of his family. He is kidnapped by the Muslim raiders, trained as a Janissary, and then wins his release and becomes a prosperous arms dealer. The starred review in Publishers Weekly sums up the plot very well and gives Tanhauser a rousing endorsement: “(Tannhauser’s) comfortable life is interrupted by the arrival of Contessa Carla La Penautier, a young widow who uses her considerable charms (and title) to recruit Tannhauser to help her find Orlandu, the bastard son she was forced to abandon at birth 12 years earlier. Arriving on Malta, where Carla believes her son is, Tannhauser and Carla get caught in the Turkish attack on the Christian enclave. Meanwhile, Orlandu’s father, Ludovico Ludovici, a monk and feared inquisitor, has returned to Malta with hopes of bringing Malta under papal control. Tannhauser has to find Orlandu, unmask the scheming and unscrupulous Ludovici, survive vicious combat against the Turks, win Carla’s heart and find a way to escape the “island of fanatics and fools.” In Tannhauser, Willocks has created a dazzling hero whose debut will leave readers eager for the next installment.”

This book would make a wonderful book group book because there is lots to discuss. It is long because it is about a quest. The plot is complex and has many characters, though some reviewers found the characters to be shallow. There is much to discuss and think about in the wars of religion which are the background of this story. The book will appeal to readers who revel in deep historical detail and also to people fascinated by the orders of religious knights such as the Knights of Saint John and the Templars. The book features religious politics and conspiracies as well as sex, romance and spiritual salvation.

If you persevere to the end of this long book, which many reviewers described as “gripping,” you will certainly find yourself waiting with impatience for the next book of the planned trilogy.
If you liked The Religion, you might like the Arthurian series of books by Bernard Cornwell (1st one, The Winter King). To me they had the same kind of fascinating historical military detail, and almost the same amount of gore.

Family Tree by Barbara Delinski

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

The Abingdon Lite at Night group discussed Family Tree on Monday night. The overall consensus was that this was an interesting, enjoyable book and a quick read. Some of us felt that Ms. Delinsky was a little preachy in trying to put over her thoughts on race, but the issues she raised were well-founded and current. Family Tree tells the story of Dana and Hugh. Dana never knew her father, was raised by her grandmother after her mother died, and is not wealthy. Hugh is from a wealthy New England family that can trace its heritage back through generations. When this very white couple has a rather brown baby, their lives are completely turned around, and there begins a search for the source of the baby’s color. Both Dana & Hugh & their families begin to ask themselves questions about their attitudes to race. Delinsky highlights the theme of race, but also raises the subject of secrets in families and how they can be destructive. As relief from these serious issues, the author gives us moments set in Dana’s grandmother’s yarn store. These interludes will be appreciated by anyone who likes to knit, or who can appreciate the friendship and support Dana finds there. The author joined with a yarn manufacturer to design the knitting patterns that are mentioned.
Go to for more information about Family Tree and to find out what the author thinks of her book. There is a good list of questions for any readers joining book discussions about Family Tree.
The next book we are reading is The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, on September 17 at 6:30pm. You are invited to bring a photo of yourself as a child, and share coffee & cookies with us.

Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead by Nick Drake

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

This week, rather than focusing on what a book group has been discussing, I wanted to recommend a book I have been reading myself. Since this book is by a debut fiction author, Nick Drake, I am hoping that I can steal a march on you and recommend a book you have not heard about. I think you should really try Nefertiti:the Book of the Dead. Though at times the plot gets a little confusing, I think you will put the book down well satisfied and looking forward to the next installment of the planned trilogy.

The story is set in ancient Egypt at the time of Akhenaten, the king who for political reasons dismantled the ancient structure of priests and gods and put in its place the worship of himself, as the incarnation of the one god, Aten, the sun disk. Our likeable hero, detective Rai Rahotep of the Egyptian secret police is summoned to Akhenaten, the new city built in the desert, to solve a mystery before the festival to celebrate the founding of the new regime. Should Rahotep fail he will be put to death, along with his young family. The mystery is the disappearance of Nefertiti, whose appearance at the festival is essential to Akhenaten to shore up his crumbling reign and equally crumbling city.

Nick Drake does an excellent job of describing the politics of the time, and also vividly depicts the palaces and streets of the city. The background details to me were one of the strengths of the book that kept me engaged. Even clothing and furniture is described, as well as the squalor of the ordinary people, who are not beneficaries of the new order as the rich are. The backstreets and the River Nile itself come into play a lot as Rahotep pursues suspects or is pursued himself. There is plenty of action and adventure in this book, together with some bloody and gruesome scenes of torture. Though there is a mystery to solve, this book is both longer and more complex than a traditional mystery. I think fans of Robert Harris’ Pompeii will enjoy this.

Things to think of as you read:
What does Drake have to say about love and family. Are there different kinds of love?
What are the motives of some of the great men described in the book? Are their characters well-developed? Are their motives believable?
Drake describes obsession and even madness. Is his depiction convincing?
One reviewer thought that the book had “a convincing aura of suspense.” Would you agree? What did you think of the scenes in the Otherworld?

What is the importance of the Nile and the Red Land?

Other authors of Egyptian mysteries:
Lynda Robinson
P. C. Doherty

The Last Summer (of You & Me) & Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Did you read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its sequels? Did you see the movie? Are you wondering what to read now that you are grown up and ready for an adult novel? Ann Brashares has the answer. She has written a moving story of love and loss that is deeper and more atmospheric than Sisterhood. In Sisterhood, Brashares deals with the relationships between four best friends. Each girl, a character in her own right, goes through her own set of experiences when they are apart during one summer. The girls share a pair of jeans, the Traveling Pants, that somehow magically fit each girl, and which act as a concrete bond between them. Sisterhood reflects the trials and tribulations of the teen years. It shows how the girls’ intense friendship provides each with support and a shoulder to cry on when needed.

In the Last Summer, Brashares tells the story of Riley and Alice, two sisters who spend their summers on Fire Island. Riley is the athletic lifeguard, Alice is the shy and quiet younger sister. A third person has made the twosome a threesome for most of their summers. He is Paul, nearer to Riley in age, but loved by Alice. When Paul returns to Fire Island after three years away, a complex situation develops.
Though the trio longs to live in the past and relive their childhood days at the shore, reality and the real world begins to intrude and they must all begin to face their future as adults. Brashares tells their story with great delicacy, sensitivity and emotion. This novel will appeal to adult readers of all ages.