Friday, May 10, 2019

Book Review - "The Family" by Mario Puzo



A few years ago I read Sarah Dunant’s Blood & Beauty, which I found to be an engaging read with atmospheric settings. So, going into The Family, I was already familiar with the Borgia family and other historical characters and the Italian Renaissance background.

This novel was the author’s last piece of fictional work and he died before the manuscript was finished. The book was released posthumously. The manuscript was completed by Carol Gino, the author’s companion.

The style of writing is down to earth and lucid from start to finish. I could not tell at which point the change of authorship takes place.

In some parts it seems the author is so zealous in trying to present the fatherly side of Rodrigo Borgia that it comes across as forced, especially when his cruel and calculating plans using his children as pawns speak much louder. It seems to me that this character often tries to rationalize his ambitions, greed and lust by pretending that these are not contradictory to his religious faith. But understandably, under the immense political pressures that come from sovereign states and papal states alike, above all, from his archrival Cardinal della Rovere who constantly breathes down his neck, he has his reasons to scheme and plot.

Cesare Borgia is portrayed to be vengeful, ultra ambitious and wicked, but then his sexual obsession with his sister Lucrezia is made out to be his only redeeming trait, which is no redeeming trait at all.

Lucrezia is perhaps the least deranged of the Borgias. Her character is also the most credible.

All in all, it was a good read. I’m giving it 3.5 stars, rounded up.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Qing Empresses Exhibition at the Freer/Sackler Museum in Washington DC


The Qing Empresses Exhibition at the Freer/Sackler Museum in Washington DC starts today and will last until June 23, 2019.

Empress Xiaozhuang, the protagonist of my novel The Green Phoenix, is one of the featured Empresses.


Book Review - "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel



Prompted by the BBC TV series, I had previously read Wolf Hall (to which I gave 3.5 stars). While that first novel impressed me as leaning on whitewashing Thomas Cromwell (especially when contrasted with Thomas More), I found Bring Up the Bodies to be somewhat more balanced in the portrayal of his character.

The main storyline in this novel is about Anne Boleyn’s downfall and Cromwell’s hand in the elaborate scheme that brought about the indictment and execution of Anne herself, her brother, and four other men in various ranks, all for high treason. Here, Cromwell is the chief schemer, who would admittedly benefit politically from the erasure of his ally-turned-rival. But in his role as King Henry’s trusted adviser, he has little choice but to anticipate his wishes and act at his behest. When the belligerent and self-important Anne threatens his life, he understandably needs to move first. Granted, the underlying powder keg of the whole meltdown is the King’s burgeoning whims for another woman, Jane Seymour, which means that Anne, whose cardinal sin is her inability to produce a male heir, is doomed in the first place. The play of chance and design is fully fleshed out.

In portraying Cromwell’s internal thoughts when he seeks to justify his ruthless cunning in culling his enemies, Mantel often invokes his obsession with avenging his mentor and master, the deceased Wolsey. But the fact that he never lets himself be brought down with him does suggest that his loyalties may be less steadfast than perceived. Still, given his humble background and the horde of predatory noblemen constantly hounding him, self-preservation at the cost of rivals seems to be a more believable excuse.

As for his reformation effort that is supposed to be beneficial to British society, especially where it concerns shutting down papist monasteries and confiscating their estates and channeling the proceeds to education and feeding the poor, perhaps his contribution cannot be denied, although in the process, while stuffing the King’s coffers, he also conveniently empowers and enriches himself.

This passage reveals at a glance the essence of both Anne’s and Cromwell’s characters:

He has always rated Anne highly as a strategist. He has never believed in her as a passionate, spontaneous woman. Everything she does is calculated, like everything he does.

This paragraph gives a clear gist of the novel:

Statements, indictments, bills are circulated, shuffled between judges, prosecutors, the Attorney General, the Lord Chancellor’s office; each step in the process clear, logical, and designed to create corpses by due process of law.

Overall, the novel is full of immersive intrigue and drama while seemingly adhering to historical facts. I’m giving this novel 4 stars.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wow! Had to Share this Review!


Julianne of Yorkshire, U.K. chose The Green Phoenix for her Goodreads Group's ("For Love of a Book" Group) World Libraries Challenge 2019. 

I had to share her lovely review:

"The story of Bumbutai, a Mongolian princess who became the revered Grand Dowager Empress Xiaozhuang, unfolds against the backdrop of the fall of the Ming dynasty and the rise of the Manchu Qing.

I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. The story telling vividly brought the characters and political machinations to life.

Reading this sent me on a journey back in time and through a huge emotional range, from curiosity to anger to love to laughter.

I honestly can't think of the last time I loved a book so much.

I read this because of the For The Love Of A Book groups World Libraries Challenge for 2019, one of the challenges was to read a Book with a MPG of Historical Fiction set in China or Japan. After hours of browsing Goodreads I found The Green Phoenix and I was so glad I did."


Link to the Goodreads review.