Book Review: The Grifter by Dean Campbell and Ali Gunn (@DCIMorton, @GunnCrime) #RBRT #modern fiction #financial thriller

Standard

I bought this book for review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I impressed even myself with this selection. The book is a cracking good story.

The Grifter’s storyline is not particularly fun at the beginning, where the authors introduce us to two characters at the opposite ends of the spectrum: Kent Bancroft, on a meteoric ride to be England’s newest billionaire and James, a begrimed homeless man, doing his best to survive on the streets of London. But they are linked. Inextricably.

Bancroft’s success has come from the investments of what he sees as “little people,” robbing them of their money to provide returns for those who matter to him – people with money and status – who bring him more investors with money and status. One of those little people was James, now a one-legged man as the result of an electrical accident at his work site. And a man with no retirement nest egg and who lost his wife and children when he couldn’t find any work to support them. James’ main goal in life is to get even. But how?

He begins by stalking Bancroft to determine the best place to confront him, then accosting him. In the kerfuffle, Bancroft loses his wallet, and the money in it allows James to design a path to revenge, but not without setbacks. There is also a microSD card hidden in the wallet which sits there in the reader’s memory until these interlocking stories reach a final confrontation.

The story of James’ life on the street is fascinating – how he gets around, where he sleeps, how he feeds himself. He’s also quite a character, not educated or intuitively smart but dogged in his pursuit of Bancroft. The scene where he uses Bancroft’s gym membership card to sneak into Musclebound Fitness to get a shower is hysterical. James’ world is populated by compelling characters such as Fat Baz, a grossly overweight homeless man who has a problem with gaseous emissions, but who knows people who know people.

Bancroft is a weasel, no doubt, and one who is heavily in debt. He has a rapacious second wife who serves as his eye candy, an equally greedy first wife who is determined to insult the second and wheedle more money from Bancroft, and a spoiled daughter for whom nothing is too expensive as long as her father pays for it. With her upcoming nuptials, she is determined to have the wedding of the year or perhaps the decade. In addition, he finds that he bought a painting of dubious provenance at a fund-raising auction for £25 million, something he was too drunk to remember. He restarts his mechanism for attracting lower-class investors to obtain money to pay his debts, but it’s not enough.

James’ struggle to deal with his feelings of impotent fury resonates well, since we all have been wronged at one time or other without the power to do anything about it. I even developed some feelings of sympathy for the hapless Bancroft who is unwilling or unable to stop the drain of money by reining in his wives and daughter. He has somehow managed to keep all this from his partner, who handles the digital part of the firm. But for how long?

The authors obviously did some real research of the homeless in London and their knowledge of high end finance is also clear.  This has resulted in some great story telling, relatively fast-paced. The chapters alternate between James and Bancroft, with James’ chapters being written in first person while Bancroft’s are in third person. This makes James’ character and motivation personal, while Bancroft seems to be at sea, buffeted by the people around him and his bankrupt company.

I couldn’t quite find a category for The Grifter.  It’s not a mystery, not spy story, not really a psychological turn nor a family story. Maybe a thriller? Nevertheless, I really recommend this book for someone looking for an unorthodox but fun read.

About the authors (Amazon)

Sean Campbell is the author of DCI Morton series (Dead on Demand, Cleaver Square, Ten Guilty Men, The Patient Killer, Missing Persons, The Evolution of a Serial Killer, and My Hands Are Tied). He spends his days working out how to kill people without being caught, and then flipping the switch to play detective. His non-writing interests vary from photography and cinema to rugby and hiking.

Ali Gunn kills people for a living. The characters in Ali’s books are the kind of strong, fearless women that every girl dreams of growing up to be. The first DCI Elsie Mabey novel, The Career Killer, is out now. Book two in the series, The Psychopath Within, is coming 2022

You can find the authors

On Twitter: (@DCIMorton, @GunnCrime

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alltheupsandowns/ (Ali Gunn)

                        https://www.facebook.com/DCIMorton (Sean Campbell)

On their official websites: https://www.gunncrime.com/

                                         https://dcimorton.com/

The Grifter is available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Grifter-Sean-Campbell-ebook/dp/B094W1PN3M/ref=sr_1_1?crid=S8GMEZC3FB7J&dchild=1&keywords=the+grifter+by+ali+gunn+and+sean+campbell&qid=1631627903&sprefix=The+Grifter+by+%2Caps%2C245&sr=8-1

End of the Line: Moab, Arches National Park and the La Sal Mountains

Standard

Our second day on the train was short. We were served a good breakfast and a charcuterie board before disembarking in Moab. Both were delicious. Our first notable sight was the De Beque Canyon, named for Dr. Wallace De Beque, a Canadian and Civil War veteran who settled there in 1884 with his third wife. It is a narrow canyon on the Colorado River, approximately 15 miles long. Geologically the canyon walls are stair-step cliffs of shoreline sands deposited during the Cretaceous era, 145 million to 66 million years ago.

We then passed the town of Palisade, home to the famous Palisade peaches and the beginning of wine country for Colorado, and Mount Garfield, named after the 20th US President, James Garfield. It is 6765 feet high, part of the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs so named because they appear similar to a shelf of books.

The train then passed through Grand Junction, the second largest city in Colorado, at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, where fruit orchards and more vineyards are found. Then on to Ruby Canyon. Ruby Canyon gets its name from the fact it is lined with red sandstone cliffs. There is a painting on the side of the canyon indicating the Colorado/Utah state line.

We arrived outside of Maob, at the end of the line. This line does not connect with the major rail line running through Utah because of the ongoing clean-up work to remove uranium tailings on this side of the town, so we rode buses to our hotel destinations.

Downtown Moab

Main Street in Moab

Moab was a typical wild west town, a favorite hideout for many gangs of outlaws in the 1800s because of the surrounding deep canyons.The discovery of uranium in the 1950s put Moab on the map and it now attracts visitors, like us, to come to explore the five surrounding national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion.

The following day we visited Arches National Park. Originally a cattle ranch, it was established as a national monument in 1929 and a national park by President Nixon in 1970. It got its name from the over 2,000 rock arches found within its boundaries. Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement sculpted the rock scenery of the park over a hundred million years of erosion. While the arches are the main draw, towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks (rocks balancing on what look like precarious bases) are part of the vistas.  We went early in the morning when it is cool and the air is so clean and fresh, you want to spend time thinking about breathing!

I’m just going to show you some of my favorite rock formations.

The Three Gossips

Delicate Arch – you can see the La Sal Mountains through the arch

Marching Elephants (see the ears?)

A pocket arch – not all the way through

 

                                                                      The Windows

And one that seemed to be giving us the middle finger!

The next day, we headed to the La Sal Mountains, traveling down the Colorado River valley and then climbing to around 5000 feet. The view down the valley was spectacular and I could have sat there all day, enjoying the cool breeze, and the clean and fresh air, and absolute quiet, except for the wind in the pine trees!

 

I hope you enjoyed coming along on our trip as much as we enjoyed taking it!

WHAT A BIRTHDAY: OVER THE ROCKIES BY TRAIN TO MOAB, UTAH – Part 1

Standard

For my birthday this year, Hubs decided we should take the Canadian Rocky Mountain Railway from Denver to Moab. Canadian Railways just opened this route this year and it’s proved to be enormously popular.

Spoiler: some of these a pictures not taken by me!

After flying from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta and then to Denver, we stayed in the mile-high city in a hotel that had been created from the old railway station. The rooms were commodious and comfortable and the original vast waiting room had been converted into a comfortable waiting room with sofas and chairs, with various restaurants and bars surrounding it. It was a fabulous place to people watch and when they came in to get a drink or coffee or just sit to talk.

We left by bus the next day from a remote railyard, where they laid out the red carpet for us. Our bags were sent ahead by truck to that night’s stopover in Glenwood Springs, so we just brought a small bag with things we thought we might need.

The view from our car was spectacular. While not completely glass-topped, it did have a partial glass roof, and our vantage point for everything was vista-like. And the food! They plied us with a breakfast and a lunch fit for a king, plus all the drinks we could possibly want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The haze is the smoke from the CA wildfires

When gold and silver were discovered in the Rockies in the 1860s, railroad lines were built between canyons and over high passes to connect all the mining camps in the state. These lines connect and were the basis of the rail line we to. The first climb we made was up the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies and is an engineering marvel with the tight 10-degree radius of the switchback curves to keep the grade to 2%.

We discovered there are a lot (30) tunnels over a 13-mile segment of rail that were hand-blasted through solid rock on the way up to the Continental Divide. No pictures, just blackness!

We passed the beautiful Gross Reservoir that holds water piped from the western side of the Continental Divide and supplies Denver and the agricultural Great Plains to the east. The Continental Divide, which separates water flowing west into the Pacific from those flowing east into the Atlantic, runs from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. It runs through the heart of Colorado for 650 miles crossing many of the state’s mountains’ peaks.  I checked the direction of the water in the rivers/ streams we encountered just to make sure.

             My view  and the reservoir

A ten-mile-long tunnel, called the Moffat Tunnel, was built by David Moffat, a Denver banker, and cost him his entire fortune. It eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature, replacing the rail that looped dangerously over Rollins Peak. It is an incredible feat of engineering, ingenuity, and persistence.

Although the final cost of the tunnel was $23,972,843. The project excavated 3,000,000,000 pounds of rock over the five-year project, and construction was intensive with 800 men working around the clock for three and a half years.

The Colorado River began as a rather narrow stream that widened as we passed westward from the Continental Divide and followed on the left or right side of the railroad tracks. Byers Canyon, 13 miles long, is the first of many carved by this river on its march to the Pacific, and was followed by Gore Canyon, which is bordered by cliffs 1,000 feet high. We saw rafters and kayakers in the white water of the Colorado in this canyon. Then we saw Burn Canyon, sheathed by red sandstone, and then the Dotsero Cutoff where the Eagle River joins the Colorado.

Byers Canyon, top, and Gore Canyon, bottom

Towards the end of the first day, we traversed Glenwood Canyon, the largest of the Upper Colorado and one of the most scenic in the US. The canyon was formed relatively recently in the Pleistocene era by the rapid cutting of the Colorado down through layers of sedimentary rock. The canyon was hit with a devastating wildfire in 2020, which burned 30,000 acres and led to rock and mudslides the following winter that closed I 70 and the railroad tracks for about ten days. There was evidence all around: burned and charred trees and piles of boulders and mud.

We ended the day in Glenwood Springs, originally called Fort Defiance, but renamed by entrepreneur Isaac Cooper after his wife’s hometown. Frankly, I like the original name. Cooper and silver baron Walter Deveraux make the town into a world-class hot springs destination with the arrival there of the railroad in 1887.

It is still renowned for its hot springs and was a real Wild West town with visitors such a Buffalo Bill Cody and Doc Holliday. Holliday is buried in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery.  You will recall John Henry “Doc” Holliday (1851 – 1887) was a gambler, gunfighter, and dentist. He was a close friend and associate of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp and is best remembered for his role in the events leading up to and following the gunfight at the OK Corral.

We were booked into the Hotel Denver, built in 1914, and decided to walk to the cemetery. Little did we know it was about a mile uphill from the hotel with another half-mile straight up a mountainside (final altitude around 6000 feet). The walk, which would have been manageable by us at sea level, nearly flattened us.

 

Next:  On to Moab and the La Sal mountains!

Book Review: Megacity by Terry Tyler (@TerryTyler4) #dystopian fiction

Standard

Leave it to me to pick up the last in Terry Tyler’s Galton Trilogy to read first. But no matter, it’s a great stand-alone novel. For your information, the trilogy is named after Frederick Galton, a pioneer of eugenics in the late 19th and early 20th century, which should give you a good idea of the basis of these books.

The book initially revolves around Tara, the daughter of two drug addicts, who, when her parents are killed, runs. Tara had been living in one of the UK’s new mega cities, where citizens no longer own their own homes but live in ecofriendly apartments in buildings called Stacks. With no close relatives, she is eventually sent to one of the many Hope Villages, places outside the cities where people are sent who are homeless, have bucked the system or do not fit into their assigned careers. There she makes friends with Radar, another kid who does not fit in. She is adopted by a very rich and powerful couple, the Bettencourts, who raise her in a life of privilege, until the she discovers her adopted father molests the girls they adopt. She runs away yet again, finding menial jobs until she is discovered as the new face of Nucrop, a company that proclaims it makes healthy foods. She soon becomes a princess of media influencers, as long as she keeps quiet and does what she’s told. She comes to realize that while total surveillance has all but wiped out criminal activity, citizens’ activities and health are being monitored by their implanted biometric sensors.

We are then introduced to Aileen, who is forcibly uprooted to a megacity from the home she and her husband own. Soon after that, despairing of the control exerted by the government, her husband leaves her to live in the Wasteland, where people still live in freedom, although without electricity, running water and food. Without a husband and a job, she has no means of support, and she is forced to surrender her 18 month old daughter to NPU (non-parental upbringing) or go with her to a Hope Village. Aileen chooses NPU as best for her daughter and is then sent to school to learn technology, after which she is parceled out to a series of menial jobs. She is not allowed to see her daughter again, despite continuing assurances to the contrary by NPU.

Radar gets involved in gang rule at the Hope Villages and eventually is sent to jail. When he is released he is given the chance to live a ‘normal’ life. But in exchange for the loss of his soul.

The author eventually weaves together the lives of Aileen, Tara and Radar in an unexpected way, although knowing Terry’s tremendous strengths as a writer, I never doubted it would happen.

The outcomes of these three disparate lives demonstrates that the price of living in a megacity is too high for those who seek freedom. “’As long as some of us are still living free, they have not yet won. Anyone who refuses to live as they want us to has beaten them. That’s how we do it. That’s how we win.’” It’s a strong warning.

Wow! What a story! A page turner for me as I raced to find out what would happen to these three. The sense of dread I felt while reading Megacity was exacerbated by what is happening in many countries right now – the march to an ideology that brooks no dissenters. And imagine my surprise when I discovered Elon Musk is perfecting a brain implant that will “improve are mental processes.” Terry has taken current events and carried them out to a logical conclusion.

Terry is a terrific (and prolific) writer. I’ve enjoyed many of her books, and I highly recommend this one. She is a consummate world builder, in this case one which our grandchildren could come to know, populated by characters with whom we can identify.

Five stars

About the author (Amazon):

Terry Tyler is the productive author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being Megacity. Also published recently is ‘The Visitor’, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller that centers around an internet dating con, but has not yet finished with devastated societies, catastrophe, and destruction, generally. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team. She is also a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the northeast of England with her husband.

You can find the author

On Twitter: @ Terry Tyler4

And at: http://terrytyler59.blogspot.com

A Shout-Out to Recent New Followers

Standard

I am always grateful when someone decided to follow my blog, so here is my acknowledgment of them in return. I have a backlog of followers to recognize so if I haven’t mentioned you, hand in there.

 

Josué Júnior at https://linkezine.com.br/ I believe he is Brazilian and he publishes about politics, sports, etc in his online magazine.  I translated the Poruguese and found he is a post-graduate from Cândido Mendes college, who works in the market with his company Arte Foto Designer and is owner of the content site Linkezine, @linkezinea

artworldblogspot at https://artworldblog.com/2021/07/22/quotations-on-art/ An Art News Blog covering diverse topics to do with art and style, as well as creativity in general. They blog about art, photography, mindfulness, recommend related products and give our best SEO tips for artists and bloggers.

wholelottarosie @ https://roswithageisler.wordpress.com  Roswitha Geilser is a talented artist and the author of this blog. She features artwork, portraits, paintings – hers and others.

Arthur Hofn at https://arthurhofn.home.blog His is a pen name. He’s from Milton Keynes in South England but moved to Dublin when he was in his early twenties, and currently lives just outside London. He writes novels and other stuff, travel, reading and photography. He posts about his writing, literature reads and music.

 An old friend, Wayne, at https://tofinophotography.wordpress.com. Wayne has introduced me to the wildlife – bears and whales and eagles, oh my! – in his area with his exquisite photography and I am delighted to have him as a follower.  Do check out his blog – fantastic!

Rhonda Gayle at https://sibylschristmas.wordpress.com Rhonda has a whimsical blog about Sybil Riversleigh who lives in Riversleigh in an old style manor house that offers rooms with a view to artists and writers who are interested in settling in Lemuria and working to populate this old realm. Christmas is clearly the best time of year to visit.

Patricia Furstenburg who posts at https://alluringcreations.co.za/wp/blog/ Pzatricia writes novels about history that blends with fiction, about war heroes, human or canine, and she also pens humorous poetry & haiku about nature and dogs. With a medical degree behind her, Patricia is passionate about mind, brain and education and the psychology behind it. Her latest book, Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For, is about the war in Aghanistan. She also blogs about travels in Romania.

Marc Baker at https://mbdevotional.com.  He is is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training Center (Pastoral Ministries), Liberty University (Religion), and Regis University (Information Assurance/Cybersecurity). His ministerial background includes pastoral ministry, leading revivals, and writing devotionals to inspire Christians globally, which he puts on his blog.

Mechanics Food at https://mechanicsfood.wordpress.com  This site publishes easy recipes for delicious foods – along with photos that make your mouth water!

Katie at https://whisperingofpages.wordpress.com Katie is a Korean teenage book blogger. On her blogs she screams about all things books.  But also tells us about her life and her heritage. If you need to find a book for a teen or YA, this is the blog site for you! She is a discerning reviewer.

Alozade Ahmed at https://paintdigi.com The author presents different kinds of beauty in a large categories: Art and photographic images in several sub-categories (natural beauties, urban beauty, artistic beauty, including historical art). The photos are awesome.

Book Review: Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme (@helenahalme) # RBRT #women’s fiction

Standard

A compelling read about two cultures and one family’s struggle to deal with the past.

Eeva has a happy life in Finland, with a caring mother, her beloved Pappa, and an older sister Anja who is entering the difficult teenage years. Then Pappa moves the family to Stockholm where he has found a better-paying job, and Eeva’s life changes. Anja, who has learned Swedish, makes friends easily, although not always the best kind. Eeva and her mother struggle to learn a new language, which causes social problems for them both since they are bullied for being Finnish. The relationship between her mother and her father becomes strained and ugly. Her father takes to drinking vodka and eventually beats his wife, which leads to a divorce.

This novel is a believable, but dark, story of family dynamics. Eeva was badly affected by the divorce. As an adult, she seldom sees her mother and has avoided her father for three decades in an attempt to adjust her life to avoid the pain of her parent’s separation.  Although she at first seems psychologically stable, there was a hint that all was not that well with her when it is revealed she has never gone back to Finland to see her grandmother, whom she loves deeply. Instead, she relies on a weekly exchange of letters, but she never follows up when her grandmother fails to write her for three weeks in a row.

Human frailty is the basis of the story and the faults in each of the characters are on full display. When the family is forced together again for the grandmother’s funeral, its members, and especially Eeva, have to face the truth of their twisted relationships. When the real reason behind the parents’ divorce is revealed, it becomes clear why each family member has dealt with the fallout in their own way.

This is a well-written novel, if not the most pleasant. At its bones, it is a dish of reality served up by an author who knows how to present it. The setting – Finland and Sweden – was novel for me, and the characters were well drawn and never boring. It was a good and compelling read.

About the author (Amazon)

Helena Halme writes Nordic fiction with a hint of both Romance and Noir. A prize-winning author, former BBC journalist, bookseller, and magazine editor, she holds an MSc in Marketing and an MA in Creative Writing. Full-time author and self-publishing coach, Helena also acts as Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors and has published twelve Nordic fiction titles and three nonfiction books.

Apart from writing stories, Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.

You can find more about Helena Halme

On twitter: @helenahalme

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor/

On Instagram (@helenahalme)

And on her book site: https://helenahalme.com/

You can find Coffee and Vodka on Amazon:

 

 

Book Review: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach (@Dwallacepeach) #fantasy #nautical adventure

Standard

D. Wallace Peach is, to me, the master of world creation. In The Ferryman and the Sea Witch she blends a romping nautical adventure with a population of beautiful and deadly Merrows (think mer-people on steroids) and various greedy, powerful rulers and just plain nasty characters against a vivid backdrop that transports you to the vastness and beauty of the sea with her gorgeous descriptions.

The story: The officers on a ship from the country of Brid Clarion captured a Merrow, the Sea Witch Panmar’s daughter, in a net. Out of the water, she is dying. Callum, the ferryman, demands his captain to free her but is refused. In retaliation for her death, Panmar rips the ship and sinks it into the Deep. Callum survives because he tried to save her daughter, and Panmar allows him to be the only one to cross the Deep between the countries of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick without being sunk. But there is a punishment: Callum can’t step on land until someone of royal blood in Brid Clarion or Half Killick is sacrificed.

Neither Caspia, the queen of Haf Killick, an artificial island nation, nor Thayne, the king of Brid Killick, are willing to pay royal blood to satisfy Panmar’s vengeance. So Callum keeps sailing, year after year, bringing fruits, vegetables, cloth, and other livelihood items for Haf Killick and bringing back treasure in payment to Brid Clarion. Complicating matters is the fact Caspia has Thayne’s son as a hostage and Thayne has her daughter.

There are plenty of secrets held by the main characters and twists and turns in the story kept me turning pages as fast as I could. Callum’s frustration and anger and growing sense of isolation impart to the reader as does the nasty doings Caspia, Thayne and the fickle Panmar. The Merrows are particularly delightful, at once playful and deadly.

But I also read the author’s books for the gorgeous and lyrical quality of her descriptions. As a sailor myself, I was right at home on Callum’s ship, hearing the slapping of the lines and sails, feeling the rocking with the waves, and smelling the brine of the ocean.

This is a must-read for anyone in love the with sea, the concept of mermaids (Merrows) , and sheer fantasy!

The cover is a winner, too!

Five stars

About the author from Amazon):

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

The author can be found

On twitter: @Dwallacepeach

On her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

On her website: dwallacepeachbooks.com

You can find The Ferryman and the Sea Witch on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B095J5X8DW/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i8

No, Not Another Book Review! How About Some Renaissance Art?

Standard

This is a post from several years ago when I did Renaissance artists for my A-Z challenge.

Detail from the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, possibly a self portrait

Detail from the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, possibly a self-portrait of Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431 – September 13, 1506) was an Italian painter and a student of Roman archeology.  He was the first to experiment with perspective, in which objects become smaller as their distance from the observer increases, and foreshortening, whereby an object’s dimensions along the receding line of sight are shorter than dimensions across the line of sight. He is also one of my favorite artists of the period because he drew figures with accurate anatomical features. This is a little longer than my other blogs because I find this artist so fascinating.

St. James Led to hjis Execution

St. James Led to his Execution

Mantegna was born close to Padua, part of the Republic of Venice.  At eleven, he became the apprentice of Francesco Squarcione, a painter interested in the ancient art and architecture of Rome and Greece.  Mantegna was said to be a favorite pupil, and during this time Squarcione and his pupils, including Mantegna, began the series of frescoes in the church of Sant’ Agostino degli Eremitani, almost entirely lost in the 1944 allied bombings  of Padua.  One of these, St. James Being Led to his Execution, is clearly Mantegna’s but only old photographs exist today. It is notable for his worms-eye view of the scene and is a good example of the artist’s understanding of perspective.

At the ripe age of seventeen, Mantegna left Squarcione’s studio for the Venetian art firm of Jacopo Bellini, claiming Squarcione exploited him.

Mantegna’s early style is best represented by the Agony in the Garden, painted in 1455.

The Agony in the Garden, San Zeno Altarpiece

The Agony in the Garden, San Zeno Altarpiece

Note the angels in the upper left, with the disciples sleeping in the foreground. In the background, Judas comes with soldiers to arrest Christ. Jerusalem is depicted as a walled city, with monuments more suitable to Rome (an equestrian statue, a column with relief sculpture), undoubtedly from the influence of Squarcione.

In Verona around 1459, he painted an altarpiece for the church of San Zeno Maggiore, depicting a Madonna and angels, with four saints on each side. Note the use of classical details and perspective in all of the panels.

Church of San Zeno, altarpiece

Church of San Zeno Maggiore, altarpiece

In 1460 Mantegna was appointed court artist for the Marquis of Mantua; he was paid a salary of 75 lire month, a huge sum which marked the high regard in which his art was held.

His Mantuan masterpiece was painted in what is now known as the Wedding Chamber of the Marquis’ castle: a series of frescoes including various portraits of the Gonzaga family, of which the Marquis was a member. It was finished around 1474.

Gonzaga Family and Retinue

Gonzaga Family and Retinue

After the Marquis died and Francesco II of Gonzaga was elected, Mantegna’s artistic commissions resumed. During this period he painted St. Sebastian, one of three he painted.  The saint is tied to a classical arch and seen from an unusually low perspective, to create the dominance of his figure. The head and eyes are turned toward heaven and at his feet are two people intended to create a contrast between the man of faith and one attracted by earthly pleasures.

Saint Sebastion

Saint Sebastion

Pope Innocent VIII commissioned him in 1488 to paint frescos in the Belvedere Chapel in Rome, now destroyed, after which Mantegna returned to Mantua.  There he finished nine tempera pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar, which he had probably begun before leaving for Rome.  These are gorgeous depictions of the splendor of Caesar and are considered Mantegna’s finest work. Note the elephants in one of the processional scenes and then Caesar, a stony-faced figure high on his chariot, which is the last in the series. Caesar’s features were copied from Roman busts and coins, his body stiff as a sculpture, while the people around him are more alive.

Panel from the Triumphs of Caesar

Panel from the Triumphs of Caesar

Last Panel from the Ttriumphs of Caesar

Last Panel from the Triumphs of Caesar

During this later period, Mantegna also painted the Lamentation of the Dead Christ, which portrays the body of Christ supine on a marble slab.  This painting is often used to demonstrate Mantegna’s extreme and talented use of perspective.  In this painting, there are rich contrasts of light and dark, with the realism and tragedy of the scene enhanced by the perspective.  An analysis of the painting has shown that the size of the figure’s feet has been reduced since in their exact size, they would have blocked some of the body from that angle.  Note Mantegna’s obvious knowledge of anatomy, particularly in the thorax, hand, and feet. This is one of my favorite paintings of his.

Lamentation of Christ

Lamentation of Christ

Mantegna died in Mantua in 1506. In 1516, a monument was erected in his honor by his sons in a chapel of the church of San Andrea in that city.

Church of San' Andrea

Church of San Andrea

                                  Bust of  Andrea Mantegna made by himself or Gian Marco Cavalli

If you like these Renaissance diversions I will find more to re-post!

Book Review: The Chalky Sea by Clare Flynn (@Clarefly) #RBRT #Women’s fiction #historical fiction

Standard

This is the fourth book of five in No Woman Is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women, a collection of novels written by different authors and edited by Jean Gill. I agreed to review this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, for which I received a copy in return for a fair and honest review.

The Chalky Sea is a story of the physical, mental and romantic tribulations of people from different backgrounds and countries brought together by the disruptions of war. Clare Flynn has set her novel in England during WW II and tells it from two viewpoints, one English, one Canadian. I doing so, she paints a very realistic picture of the vagaries and horror of that war.

Englishwoman Glen Collinwood lives in Eastbourne on the eastern coast of England and is enduring a farewell to her husband, who is heading off to an unknown job in the Army during WW II. Despite the fact she knows she may never see him again, her good-bye is muted, almost sterile, which is an early hint to her character. Two weeks later, her sleepy little town is attacked by German bombers, who will return several times over the next two years. Jim Armstrong is a wheat farmer in Ontario, uncertain whether he should volunteer for the army. But when he learns his fiancée is having an affair with his younger brother, he leaves the farm and two weeks later, is on a ship bound for England with other enlistees.

As the war progresses, Gwen is called upon to intercept and translate German radio broadcasts, the job which Jim, who is billeted in her house, will take over. The presence of the soldiers, as well as of a young mother with two children who loses her home in a bombing attack, causes Gwen to re-evaluate her distant and unemotional relationships – not only with her husband but also with the other people in her life. A romance with Jim brings her shortcomings into clarity.

The author brings in some interesting facts – the Canadian army volunteers find themselves stuck in England, enduring unending and prolonged training before they are ever considered ready for combat, and the German bombed non-critical targets to demoralize the British. This, along with the expected disruptions caused by the war, wartime romances between young soldiers and local girls, unexpected pregnancies, rationing, and death notices underscore the common theme is how war changes people in basic ways, sometime for better and sometimes for worse. Gwen’s gradual metamorphosis is at the heart of this premise.

There were a few parts of the plot that didn’t ring true: Jim’s best friend falling instantaneously in love with one of the ‘common’ women and marrying her at once, Jim’s relationship with a woman he doesn’t understand and doesn’t seem to like, followed by his intense relationship with Gwen, which ends with no lasting emotion.

The ending was abrupt, but happy, for one of these characters, while the future of the other was left hanging at a crucial juncture. I would have liked to see the former drawn out more and the latter resolved.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this historical romance. The characters were for the most part believable and the settings rendered with such realism that the reader is sucked into the story. The author has done her research, and the tension and deprivations the war brought to England are palpable.

This is the first book in the author’s Canadians series, and I plan to read the other two books in that series: The Alien Corn and The Frozen River.

About the author (Amazon)

Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels. She is the author of twelve novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire that largely disappeared after WW2.

Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavor of her books.

Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

You can find Clare Flynn

On twitter: @Clarefly

On her book site:  http://www.clareflynn.co.uk.

On Face book: https://www.facebook.com/clarefly

You can find The Chalky Sea in the anthology or as a standalone book on Amazon:

 

Book Review: The Chase by Lorna Fergusson (@lornafergusson) #RBTR #women’s fiction #historical fiction

Standard

This is the third book in No Woman Is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women, a collection of five novels written by different authors and edited by Jean Gill. I agreed to review this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, for which I received a copy in return for a fair and honest review.

The Chase was a pace and tone shift from the previous two books in the collection. I did not know this author before reading it but found that her writing captivated me more than the story. There are some authors I read for the joy of the written word, Pat Conroy being one of them, and I have added Lorna Fergusson to the list.

Lorna Fergusson has woven a dark, emotional tale set in the beautiful Dordogne region of France. Once again, a house plays a vital role. Le Sanglier is a very old house buried deep in the woods of the Dordogne, a site layered with history as revealed by the author, stories within the story. I particularly liked this aspect of the book and its relationship to the ending.

Without consulting his wife, the boorish, domineering and self-centered Gerald Feldwick buys a centuries-old house with an unpleasant past named Le Sanglier, during a trip to the region. I’m not sure at what time the story is set –1990s? – but it appears a number of British are moving there for retirement or vacation. He springs it on his wife, Annette, known as Netty (although she dislikes that name), telling her he sees it as a way of moving on from a tragedy in their life, the death of their young son. The young child was snatched from under Annette’s nose while she was talking to a friend, and Gerald blames her when his body is later found. Gerald believes that restoring Le Sanglier to some of its former glory will make Annette emerge from the fog of the tragedy and draw them closer together. In fact, it does the opposite.

Annette is a flawed character, despite the tragedy. She is complex and highly self-absorbed and has, at best, a shaky relationship with Gerald, whom she doesn’t really love. She is uncomfortable in her relations with both of her grown children – her daughter because she is like her father and her son, who is gay. She shows no interest in her grandchildren and refuses to take the reins of her own life and prefers to blame others. I found her totally unsympathetic.  In fact, I didn’t much like any of the characters populating Annette’s world in France, although they were very wonderfully drawn – in particular, a retired professor named Rutherford Appleby (Fred), who lives nearby and has a sexual fetish and whom Gerald regards as an old fossil; the blue-blooded and black sheep Peter Rettlesham-Carey, a rude and heavy-drinking ex-pat, in whom Gerald finds a macho pal; and Claudine Bellenger, a French aristocrat who owns Bel Arbre, a palatial house and estate that is a museum to her dead husband. I found her to be the most compelling, perhaps because she was the least flawed.

The story arc – Annette’s interactions with her neighbors, her unraveling marriage, the refurbishment of the house, her discovery of its history – proceeds at a glacial pace, and I must admit there were so many details of places in the Dordogne region, which the author clearly knows well and I don’t, that I was occasionally lost.  I kept hoping for some resolutions to Annette’s challenging relationships, but even in the end, they didn’t arrive.

I cannot say I was engrossed by this novel, but oh! the writing. The author’s power of description of place and emotions was stunningly beautiful and although I was not drawn to the story, I read on, entranced by the author’s written word. It’s a tribute to the author that she could sustain my interest in reading this, despite the pacing and a protagonist I didn’t really like.  I will definitely read another offering from her.

About the author (Amazon):

Born and raised in Scotland, Lorna Fergusson moved to Oxford where she runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy. She has taught creative writing for more than twenty years, including at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and on various programs for Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. Her novel, The Chase, was originally published by Bloomsbury: on the rights reverting, she published it under her own imprint, Fictionfire Press. She has won an Ian St James short story award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize, and her children’s novel Hinterland reached the shortlist of four for Pan Macmillan’s Write Now Prize. She was a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story competition in 2012, before winning in 2014 with her story ‘Salt’, initially published in Distant Echoes by Corazon Press and now republished in An Oxford Vengeance. Longlisted for the 2020 Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing and she was runner-up for the 2021 award.

This is British author Lorna Fergusson’s first novel, although she has contributed several award-winning short stories to two books published as collections.

You can find Lorna Fergusson

On twitter: @lornafergusson

On her book site: https://www.lornafergusson.com/

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LornaFergussonAuthor

You can find The Chase on Amazon, either in the anthology or as a stand-alone novel.