Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Series of Vapid Excuses

So, I haven't been blogging. Again. This is because I am a very busy woman.

I have been:

Growing flowers. And then looking at them, which is even more time consuming.

Taking pictures of other people's flowers so I can look at them later.

Taking pictures of other people taking pictures of other people's flowers to look at them later.
(That's my friend Larry, visiting in June.)

WHAAAT? How did that get in there? How dare you imply that I just...

Now, wait just a gol-durned ... *Hits blog upside the head.*

Okay, that's better.

Actually, that's a picture of one of the summer's early triumphs: My 20-month-old Sears Kenmore vacuum cleaner, whose motor pooched this spring. Since my last Kenmore lasted 18 years, I wanted Sears to fix this one for free; Sears's best offer, after considerable to-ing and fro-ing with various customer service reps, was to pay half.

Then I found out that Maine has a consumer protection law that imposes a four-year "implied warranty" in cases like this. The last of the reps told me he wasn't equipped to deal with that news and I'd have to contact the corporate offices in Illinois. He declined to suggest any particular person or department, just gave me the overall mailing address and said,"anyone there can help you."

So I chose the CEO.

And this turned out to be a good choice, because I got a personal letter of apology from Interim CEO W. Bruce Johnson and a call from the executive offices arranging to fix the vaccuum cleaner for free. I have it back now, and it works like a charm. And I have to say I'm glad, because it's the best designed of all I checked out while I was waiting to hear from Mr. Johnson.

Now, what else have I been doing? Writing every day. Dealing with the Brooklin Youth Corps and its usual summertime ups and downs. Going through the last phases of production on SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (out January 20) and developing a proposal for a next book. Preparing for a panel discussion July 25 at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH.

And feeling guilty about not blogging, which mostly means wondering why anyone would want to read a blog by me anyway.

Really, I've been working very, very hard.


I hate it when a blog goes rogue.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July Book Review

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book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Hear that crinkling sound? That’s me, turning over yet another New Leaf. From now on, instead of waiting for the Perfect Blog Post to wander in and crawl up my leg, I will simply Post. Oh, the excitement.

I bet you don’t believe me. Such a skeptical world this has become.

Anyway, what better time to start than with the monthly Book Review Club? (Which, oddly, appears exactly one month after my last post—thank you, Barrie Summy, for making sure I at least do this much.) Don’t forget to click on the icon to find this month’s other reviews.

A Murderous Procession
By Ariana Franklin
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010

Sicilian pathologist Adelia Aquilar is an anomaly in 1176 England—a college-educated feminist, and a practicing doctor schooled in the forbidden art of autopsy. She is, therefore, utterly unbelievable. And I don’t care.

A MURDEROUS PROCESSION is the fourth book in Ariana Franklin’s “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, which follows Adelia from her arrival in England to help Henry II find out who’s murdering Cambridge’s children and blaming it on the Jews. She’s always homesick for Salerno, where her foster father is a Jewish doctor who has no objection to his wife and daughter following the same profession. In England, the role of women is such that she can only escape a witchcraft accusation if her Arab servant/mentor/friend, Mansur, pretends to be an Arabic-speaking doctor while she “interprets.” But she’s a talented forensic pathologist, and Henry won’t let her go home. By the second book she has tied herself to England further by acquiring a lover and a daughter.

This fourth book sends Adelia, Mansur, and the lover (I won’t say who he is in case you want to start the series at the beginning) traipsing through Europe as part of a royal procession accompanying Henry II’s eleven-year-old daughter, Joanna, to her wedding with the King of Sicily. Along the way, it becomes apparent that an old enemy of Adelia’s is also part of the procession and is plotting a gruesome revenge.

I adore these books, despite the odds. Okay, it’s a stretch that a twelfth-century woman would be quite as enlightened and accomplished as Adelia. (Although Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s queen, would have kicked butt in any era.) Yeah, her lover is too consistently open-minded. And yes, it’s weird that a woman as smart as Adelia would be quite so stupid about religion, politics, and her own safety—the factors that keep getting her into trouble. It’s even a little hard to believe that Henry II would have so much work to offer a Sicilian woman doctor, no matter how talented.

But, oh, the medieval world! The details about food, clothing, daily life, travel, religion, politics, world view, and on and on! Franklin knows this era inside and out, and paints it in rich colors that seem true to life. Even Adelia and friends ring true, with suspension of disbelief.

The medieval world was equal parts erudition and ignorance, sophistication and credulity, restriction and freedom, comfort and misery, religious certainty and fear of damnation. Franklin weaves it all into a living, moving tapestry, as real as your foot. And she does it with humor—Henry’s a hoot (as he always is, especially when he’s Peter O’Toole), as are most of the characters burdened with testosterone. Adelia is exasperatingly, comedically befuddled when her status as a woman interferes with her medical practice. Supporting characters add deadpan humor without a modern author’s usual condescension toward “the Dark Ages.”

And there’s more than a touch of terror, appropriate to a time of hellfire and gargoyles. Franklin is capable of truly horrifying villains and means of murder. For sheer gruesomeness, there’s little to top the fate of Henry II’s Fair Rosamund in THE SERPENT’S TALE, a couple of books back.
In the current episode, we are privy to the villain’s thoughts, and therefore see devastation on the horizon when no one else does. You know a book has you by the gizzard when your brain screams, “No! No! Get out of there!”

It’s summertime. You don’t have much disbelief on hand right now anyway. So suspend it and enjoy.