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Monday, August 18, 2014


I wanted to like Renee Swindle's A PINCH OF OOOLALA. I wanted to say at very page, as I am doing with the novel I am currently reading, “Beautiful.” Despite the title, which hints of cancan and fin-de-siecle hoopla, this is a story of love and loss in which flippancy is very much out of place. Billed as a satisfying tale of love, friendship and family, it does include all these ingredients, along with a bakery called Scratch where Abbey Lincoln Ross, visually stunning wedding cakes.” This sounded promising and most readers hope that a new book will live up to the promise of its blurbs. This one does not.
I found as disappointing a cake that outlived its shelf life. Mind you, with every new novel I read, I want to praise its author. Unfortunately, I find it impossible in this case.
That does not mean that A PINCH OF OO LALA will not be a commercial success. There have been writers I found mediocre and who went on to sell movie rights for their work to the likes of Julie Robertson. I am well aware that every reader has a different definition of competent writing. Movie makers probably think less about the music of the words than they do about the music of the cash register.

Well, then, A PINCH OOLALAH might yet make cash registers play symphonies all over the country. It is hip, it is very much in the spirit of the age, it has a main character whose career seems to be more more rewarding than her love life. I confess that I know very little about the universality of Abbey's plight. I do not think about target groups and demographics as publishers must. I tend to focus on the way the story is told. My problem with Abbey is that she never really comes to life on the page. I know that she is owns a bakery, that comes from a an unusual family, that she has very good friends and I I know that she loves jazz. In fact, she uses her deep understanding of jazz as a yardstick to measure the potential compatibility of a prospective lover. Well and good. As someone who experienced betrayal and pain, she is very cautious about opening her heart to a man. She yearns to be part of a couple, to have children, to continue to honor her own values. No doubt there is universality in all that. But does it read well? I do not think so. I am not sure whether the essential truth of this novel is that you cannot have your cake and eat. I know this much about this story--its ingredients simply refuse to blend.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014


                                                      A MULTI-LAYERED DELIGHT

Jason Goodwin's THE BAKLAVA CLUB meets all the requirements of an excellent  novel--great setting,  great plot, a rock solid historical foundation, memorable characters, clear, luminous writing, romance that never lapses into the ordinary rock. All this rests on historical foundation only an erudite writer can build. Goodwin's fans know that he only gets better. Even so, they will be surprised at how deftly he handles the the evolution of characters such as that of  the eunuch for whom the series is named. Up to now, self-contained, self-controlled, self-effacing, clad in drab brown,  Yashim has led a quiet life punctuated by visits to the Ottoman valide and dinners with the scholarly Polish ambassador Palewsky. Only crime solving disrupts his routine. That is, until a group of Italian revolutionaries, a Finnish beauty, and Natasha, the daughter of an exiled Decembrist, cross his path.
What brings  people of such different backgrounds to Yashim's Ottoman Istanbul? Global politics,  of course.  The Italians want to kill a Polish prince and thus cause a shift in global power. The valide wants to make a tiny mark in Russian  history.  Palewsky wants Poland to be Poland once again. Yashim wants to make a difference, to right wrongs and he wants to come to terms with the damage done to him.
Are  all these different  wishes granted? You have to read the book to find out.  I promise that in the process you will be amused, you will learn fascinating historical facts, you will share delightful feasts and you will grow fonder of Yashim and friends.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Medieval historiography, in general, tends to disregard women. That is one of the reasons why Patricia Bracewell's new novel, SHADOW ON THE CROWN, is an important book. Undeterred by he paucity of documentation on her subject, Bracewell set out to blend a mix of fact and fiction that makes Emma of Normandy leap from the page and engage the reader as only strong and intelligent women can. As the story opens, she is just a teenager who worries about her horse.
Enter Danish warlord Swein Forkbeard and his marauding troops. He asks for winter harbour and once Emma's brother, Duke Richard, ruler of Normandy, grants it, Forkbeard proceeds to make himself at home in the ducal palace. He has twelve ships. Richard has neither the military power to repulse his unwelcome guests nor the wish to damage a cozy trade in plundered English goods. The real problem is fellow Christian Aethereld, whose realm the heathen Vikings raid regularly regularly. Richard's relationship with the Dane irks him. It might irk him into declaring war on Normandy. What to do but dangle offer nubile Emma as a sop? No one cares much how Emma feels about being married off--bartered might be a more precise term--at age fifteen to an aging man with some serious mental problems. Those were the times and that was European women's lot.
Although trapped into a life of obedience to a madman, Emma is determine to do the best she can. Noblesse oblige and there is te fate of Normandy to consider. Her job is not easy. Mad—or perhaps seriously tetched-- Aethereld has a gaggle of sons., Emma's safety depends on her ability to produce yet princeling. At the same time, adding a competitor for throne to the existing gaggle will not endear her to anyone. But that becomes a mt point when her first child is stillborn.
Beset by envious envy from discarded candidates to Aethereld's bed and truculent nobles who resent for being a Norman whose mother is Danish, Emma soldiers on. Following the rule that the tougher the challenges, the stronger capable women grow, she weathers all manner of storms, finding bittersweet romance and friendship along the way. The romance will not be found in historical records, but it makes Emma more believable and certainly more sympathetic. So do her dealings with Aethereld's children from previous marriages. Bracewell imbues her with the qualities so glaringly absent from her consort. The contrast is vivid and alluring.

Viking raids and Aethereld's ill-conceived consent to the Saint Brice's Day Massacre in which scores Danes residing in England perished, provide a riveting counterpoint to Emma's evolution from green girl into a capable monarch. Women's ascent to power is one of the least explored aspects of the European Middle Ages. So is the point of view of Scandinavians who made England their home. Bracewell takes all these details, arranges them appealing and makes them count without ever burdening the narrative. The result is a story as fresh and crisp as the taste of the apple cider for which Emma's home country is known. SHADOW ON THE CROWN is the first volume of a trilogy. I look forward to  subsequent volumes.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Um video maravilhoso do jovem artista brasileiro Diego Akel.Meus agradecimentos a Nathalia Catarina Forte, por compartilhar este trabalho no Facebook.