Sunday, August 28, 2016

Temple Secrets by Susan Gabriel

Temple Secrets.  Susan Gabriel. Wild Lily Arts. February 2015. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780983588276.

Iris Temple is the Grand Dame of Savannah, Georgia and treats everyone accordingly.  Her power lies in family secrets, her own as well as those of her son Edward, her daughter Rose, her half-sister Queenie, her maid Violet and the local butcher Spud.  Readers get to know her through the narration of Queenie, including Iris’s eccentric gastronomical preferences for exotic meats like rattlesnake sauteed in garlic and onions.  Queenie describes her “secret” food preference of Kentucky Fried Chicken with belly-laughing commentary.  Anyone who manages to offend Iris usually suffers negative results as Iris writes superiors no matter how high up they are from the local editor of the newspaper all the way to the President and the Pope.  Queenie manages to laugh at it all.

For Queenie, her mother Sally and Violet all practice the voodoo art of Gullah, creating mostly protective spells for those they love, although some suspect an occasional curse has also been set elsewhere. They are African-Americans who know how to love and enjoy life, sharing humor, laughter, and son in the middle of the direst times.  Now we come to the initial moment of great conflict, the dying process of Iris who has a stroke after the first “secret” from the Book of Secrets is revealed in the local newspaper.  As these are supposed to be locked up in a bank vault, everyone who knew Iris Temple is petrified about whether his or her secret will next be revealed.  Soon protesters are leaving obnoxious posters and other items outside the Temple residence, a useless gesture as the daily shocking announcements continue.

Iris is dying and the ghosts of the house are busy, busy, busy!  Ivy will not go easy and the scene describing her eventual passing is absolutely amazing!  So too is the reading of the will and the choices of the beneficiaries are wild, to say the least!

Sally and Queenie save these characters from becoming scarred, bitter people.  The scenes of their conversations and the ensuing healing are so real and heart-warming, never to be forgotten by any and all readers. Descriptions of luscious Southern meals are scattered throughout the novel as well!

There is so much more within these pages that this reader didn’t want the novel to end but to continue forever.  Temple Secrets has been compared to other popular novels, but this particular novel is so uniquely wonderful and is highly recommended! Magnificent novel!

The Memory of Lemon: A Novel by Judith Fertig

The Memory of Lemon: A Novel.  Judith Fertig. Penguin Group (USA). June 2016. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425277959.

Clare “Neely” Davis is back in this second novel (stand-alone) with her delightful gift of sensing flavors of taste that match people’s predominant emotions.  They flow freely and easily most of the time but not in this particular story as she attempts to plan a wedding cake for a mother and daughter at loggerheads over the final decision.  The mother used to be poor and struggling but married a man with drive who created a business that has made them rich; Mrs. Stidham is determined never to return to that hard, cold place and so her daughter, Lydia’s desire for a Kentucky hillbilly wedding is perceived by the mother as horrific. 

Neely knows there’s no happy in-between place here so decides to travel to Kentucky to see what she can sense there that can fill the gap for a wedding to please mother and daughter.  The story then begins to flip back and forth between the past and present, albeit with too many confusing characters, as we enter another story that has shaped many lives but also been a source of healing that might just be connected to Neely’s past as well.

Another story develops in a very graceful way that adds mystique and compassion to the story, that of Neely’s father, who had turned to drink and desertion after the Vietnam War and is now facing his own demons through the help of the Veterans Hospital.  It’s a potent and poignant tale he gradually reveals through letters to Neely and she in turn must learn to deal with her own memories.  Forgiveness isn’t easy but must be attempted by those who mature.

Add another level of conflict with Neely’s problems divorcing her ex-husband who seems to enjoy the hold he has over her due to their pre-nuptial agreement.  She could lose everything she has built in her business and so must deal with this annoying reality oh so carefully.  At the same time her attraction to another man, Ben, just be put on hold until Neely is fully divorced.  The question is whether or not Ben will wait for that finale.

All in all, The Memory of Lemon is a very nice read.  Delightful and definitely recommended!

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen.  Alison Weir. Random House Publishing Group. May 2016. 624 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101966488.

In the Author’s Note at the end of this amazing novel, Alison Weir describes Queen Katherine of Aragon as an “indomitable, courageous, and principled woman.”  Weir’s novel also exemplifies her as a loving, faithful and holy Queen in the midst of the worst possible accusations and cruel persecution anyone could endure. 

The loveliest portion of this novel is the initial love between Henry and Katherine, gloriously thrilling, intense and intimate, so well-described that the reader cannot help but feel and celebrate this couple’s joy.  Henry was distant as his father manipulated Katherine’s so-called marriage to Arthur, the eldest son.  It’s even suggested the father had eyes for the son’s bride-to-be.  But after Arthur tragically dies, Henry swears he has only had eyes for Katherine and they are wedded and live in shared bliss. 

Time passes and Queen Katherine loses many children during pregnancy or immediately upon birth, with only one daughter Mary living.  Henry is desperate for a male heir, claiming it is the primary job of his rule and one which is Katherine’s job to make happen.  Destiny chooses otherwise and the consequences are painfully devastating to Katherine as Henry becomes infatuated and then totally engrossed with Anne Boleyn.  The latter is jealous of the great love between Henry and Katherine, determined to wrest both the love and power from the Queen and sets about doing just that. 

We read of the changes in attitude of Cardinal Wolsey, ambassadors from Spain, Thomas More, Oliver Cromwell, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope, and others, all stymied by Katherine’s insistence that her marriage to Henry was legitimate, sanctified by the Church and unbreakable.  Henry, however, will move from awaiting the Papal decision approving or denying a divorce to deciding he is the proper secular and religious head of England, forsaking any necessity for Papal approval.  English history is precisely described at this point as Henry acquires great wealth and loyalty, albeit forced by fear of torture and death, and eventually marries Anne Boleyn. 

The reader will grow to love Katherine’s friends who remain loyal and dear throughout this terrible ordeal which finally affects Katherine’s health.  Alison Weir is obviously a scrupulous historian who also possesses the ability to make the reader fully engage with every thought, feeling, dialogue, setting and action throughout this SUPERB historical novel.  This is one of the finest novels this reviewer has read in a very long time and is highly recommended as, even if you already know the story, a uniquely told account of the rise and fall of a great woman. English history is forever changed because of the beloved Queen Katherine’s fortitude, faith, love and loyalty!