Sunday, October 9, 2016

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point by Newton Forhlich

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point. Newton Frohlich. Blue Bird Press. October 2016. 408 pp. ISBN#: 9780996048453.   

Whether you’re a fan of history presented precisely as it was or more engaged with a revisionist or reinterpreted depiction of history, you will be fascinated by this story of the forces impressing upon Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus or Cristoforo Colombo as he is called herein, the infamous Torquemada who headed the Inquisition, the Santangel banking family and the Arab rulers vying for ways to hold onto Spain and other European areas.

It’s a terrible time for Columbus to be seeking funds for his plan to travel the seas on a new route to discover new lands with new treasure.  He’s got one foot in Christianity as a converted Jew and one foot in the old Jewish world of his origins.  For Isabella is convinced that it is the presence of Jews that is bringing a curse upon her nation and so is conducting a campaign to arrest, torture and kill all Jews, even the converted ones whom she believes are actually still conducting their Jewish customs in secret.  Rewards are dispensed for those who spy and report on secret Jews and this in turn sets off a flurry of “mob mentality” behavior where jealousy spawns reporting of Jewishness so that lands and monies may be claimed as a reward. 

Muslim leaders attack Spain with astonishing brutality and lack of mercy.  However, Arab leaders do not trust each other and even begin to fight against each other.  This lack of unity will prove to be their undoing in spite of random victories.  The decimation of the Jewish population is believed to be a sign of victory over the Muslims and indeed one wonders how the two are tied together, if at all.

The Santangel family has Jewish origins but are so necessary to the financial health of the Spanish kingdom that more attention is paid to the family’s remarkable skills in investment and savings.  One son in particular doesn’t understand this and so he becomes a viable threat to the family and therefore kingdom’s prosperity.

Christopher Columbus’ wife, Filipa, brings him contacts and connections that will eventually finance his famous journey to the New World.  Although he will become a rich man, he cannot deny his Jewish background enhanced by his friendship with Beatriz.  It’s a thin line between the two worlds but one Colombo masters and which parallels the lives of far too many conversos in 15th Century Spain.

Newton Frohlich has crafted a dynamic, exciting, tension-filled novel about this paramount period of European history, a frenetic journey that was to shape not only the time covered in this novel but the future of Europe and the New World.  Well done, indeed, and highly recommended historical fiction!

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Juliana Gray. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Book. October 2016. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425277072.

Emmeline Truelove has been the secretary/personal assistant to the Duke of Olympia.  Upon his untimely death, Truelove is assigned to travel with Lord Silverton to find the missing son, Max Haywood, the new heir to the former Duke’s title, lands and monies.  Emmeline is staggered that she would be asked to complete such a task since her previous duties didn’t encompass sleuthing in the slightest way.  But she’s intelligent enough to do it.  Truelove as a character is enigmatic.  One minute she’s fully invested in her “proper” behavior and thinking and at other times she displays a wit and intuitive intelligence to provide meaningful clues and spunkiness of character. 

Lord Silverton, on the other hand, is well-known as a promiscuous rake, vacillating between being a caring, sensitive man and a teaser who seems to be looking for more than Truelove is willing to even hint at giving.  Indeed, it turns out that Lord Silverton is a genuine sleuth and that’s a very good thing as he and Truelove will experience danger many times during the course of their travel to Knossos in Cyprus and beyond. 

Interwoven in the story lies a part of the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth with a romantic spin only gradually revealed, scenes which enhance the very, very slowly evolving romance between Truelove and Silverton.

Add to the story that Queen Victoria and Emmeline’s father, who are both deceased, keep appearing to Emmeline, the former warning her she should never have accepted this job and the latter giving her sharp looks that could mean a million different things. Emmeline believes the appearances of both characters are delusions that she should ignore, or should she really pretend they are not real?

The archeological artifacts that have been discovered by Max and other peers seem to have a mystery about them as well.  Are they real or fake?  Why does one in particular seem to depict a character holding what any modern person would call a camera?  What are the secrets about why Max shipped his discoveries back home through someone being paid a great deal?  Are these shipments legal?  Honestly acquired for “The Institute” back home?

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit is an interesting novel replete with many twists and turns, sometimes presented with an annoying complexity and confusion and at other times with a natural style of mystery that enhances the reader’s interest and engagement.  The reader must decide whether the characters are truly credible.  Mythology is said to be a rational explanation for behavior and events that are totally inexplicable.  The same could be said for the plot of this challenging novel.  Interestingly crafted historical fiction, Juliana Gray!

The Flower Arrangement: A Novel by Ella Griffin

The Flower Arrangement: A Novel. Ella Griffin. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101989739.

Blossom and Grow is the name of the lovely Dublin flower shop Lara Gray opens after losing her baby six months into her pregnancy.  In one sense it enables her to bury her grief in work she loves, but in the true essence of this story it connects her to emotions in the customers who come into her shop to buy a single or multiple flowers for each special occasion.  That might be love, sorrow, forgiveness, joy, celebration of a landmark day, etc.  But Lara is so good at it that no one will buy unless she is in attendance as she seems to possess the perfect word, phrase or comment for the moment’s need.

Lara’s Dad was mother and father to her and now he has one concern as he lies in hospital dying.  He wants Lara to have another baby.  After experiencing a healing moment while delivering flowers to a new mother, she is able to promise him she will try.  However, after he dies, Lara’s conversation with her husband, Michael, leads to a shocking revelation that sends Lara whirling with grief on several levels. 

Her brother Phil, who has always been her biggest supporter, fills in and speaks truth at just the right time. He has his own story intertwined with his sister’s chronicle which at first seems unrelated but is actually part of this novel’s essence of being true to one’s self.

The Flower Arrangement… is a relaxing, satisfying read.  It doesn’t matter whether the reader loves, hates, or couldn’t care either way about the numerous varieties of flowers.  It’s about the rightness of certain flowers expressing the mood of the past, present and future for each person entering Lara’s world of beauty and peace. Honesty, loneliness, grief, bereavement, truth and wisdom fill these pages with wisdom transcending the simplest of plots or characterization.  Nicely crafted and recommended reading!