Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Flames of Florence: A Da Vince's Disciples Novel by Donna Russo Morin

The Flames of Florence: A Da Vinci’s Disciples Novel by Donna Russo Morin. Diversion Books. Copyright May 2018.; pb. 260 pp.; ISBN: 9781635763799.

The Da Vinci disciples grow and are even beginning to welcome new, younger members, just as full of talent and passion for painting Renaissance works of art beloved by all, even those who disapprove of women painting.  However, their unity and vision for the future is now about to come under virulent attack. 

Civil wars after the passing of the Medici family have calmed down.  However, in reaction to the celebrations of life through art, jewelry, real estate, architecture, dress, etc., the pendulum is now about to swing full circle to the fanatic zeal of religious reform! Friar Girolamo Savonarola begins his service to God by becoming a fine preacher who knows how to touch the minds, hearts and spirits of all Catholics and even some out of that fold!  But with the heady success of his popularity comes an inflated ego that turns into delusion and heresy that makes him believe he is the actual voice of God! The author’s depiction of this fiery preacher and would-be savior is amazing and probably never given so much attention and understanding!

Once kindled, Savonarola’s flames consume all of Florence, at first metaphorically.  The citizens are divided into those who take the monk’s words literally and those who hold him highly suspect, the Piagnoni and the Arrabbiati respectively.  Fiammetta Maffei becomes part of the Piagnoni, believing that all jewelry, furs, and anything of riches be surrendered so that these goods may be sold for the benefit of the poor.  A group of soldiers, composed mainly of hotheaded youth, pound on doors and demand the surrender of all riches.  Failure to respond results in terrible beatings and even murder!

When the order comes for all paintings be surrendered as well, the Disciples face a formidable challenge.  The remainder of the novel deals with how they respond and how this scourge on Florence results in a final challenge from both the Pope and the residents of Florence. 

The Flames of Florence… is the grand finale of his wonderful series and fully merits that description. The thoughts, jealousies, passionate love for art, self-examination, and determination to save what is precious and just as holy as prayers and offerings are revealed.  Ugliness and beauty are juxtaposed as each Disciple is called to choose what is divine and what is human wisdom gone totally awry!

Magnificent finale, Donna Russo Morin! Congratulations on this highly recommended work of Renaissance historical fiction!

A Stone's Throw: An Ellie Stone Mystery #6 by James W. Ziskin

A Stone’s Throw: An Ellie Stone Mystery #6 by James W. Ziskin. Prometheus Books. Copyright June 2018.; pb. 299 pp.; ISBN: 9781633884199.

Ellie Stone is a spunky, curious journalist who’s unafraid to explore any idea she gets in her head about a case.  Before one can flip a few pages, she notices smoke in the distance of the beautiful Saratoga Springs area of upstate New York in the 1960s.  It’s the Tempesta Stud Farm, that had once seen better days and is now burning to the ground.  For those who love the world of horse racing, this is a huge loss, even if it is no longer a flourishing business.  However, the whole situation turns grim when two bodies burned beyond recognition are found. It’s Ellie, after the fire has smoldered and gone out, who discovers a singed length of gold and black diamond patterned silk wrapped around the neck of one of the victims.

A bullet through the head of one victim clearly indicates that this is murder and perhaps arson.  Ellie refuses to let it rest there and begins exploring who the silk belonged to, believing it belonged to a jockey named Johnny Dornan.  It also turns out he hasn’t been seen in days.  No one is overly concerned since Dornan didn’t have the nicest reputation and wasn’t trusted or friendly with the ordinary crew working the racetrack scene. 

Ellie’s friend, Fadge, fills Ellie in on missing information about the races.  He’s a funny guy who spends hours and days reading racing sheets but loses as often as he wins bets at the track.  He’s rather fond of Ellie but their relationship never gets beyond fondness.  And he adds some information for readers not familiar with the betting on races process.

No spoilers here but suffice to say that several woman and gamers are involved in Johnny Dornan’s life.  There are several characters who don’t like to lose and resent anyone out of their circle asking too many questions.  But that doesn’t stop Ellie; if anything, it spurs her on, always with Fadge by her side or not far behind her.  Unfortunately, others will die before all the gaps have been filled in the mystery.

The sixth mystery of James Ziskin is as good, if not better, than his previous novels.  One knows the troubles and crimes will all sort themselves out, but one still can’t predict how that will happen, and that is the enjoyable process for the reader.  Nicely done, James Ziskin!!!