Monday, August 08, 2011

Excerpt from Shelf Awareness 8/8/11

Putting Food & Books on the Table

"I was once having dinner with an international group, and an American was complaining about the price of books in France. 'Yes,' said a Frenchman. 'We have this silly theory in France that our authors should be able to eat.' We don't know what the future of publishing is, but we know that the future for every writer requires food. And we know that one way to help writers eat is to encourage people to buy good books."

--Tom Lutz, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books, in his essay "Future Tense."

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock

I don’t know why I chose The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock from the June 2011 Early Reviewer’s list on Library Thing.  The book’s arrival in my mailbox was a bit of a shock.

The Hardest Thing to Do is so far from my normal reading patterns that I assumed at first glance that it would be torture for me to read and review it.  How wrong I was.

Even though there is not a single female of note in the book, I found myself drawn into the story to a remarkable degree.

I write women’s history.  What was I doing reading a book with no women and about monks no less so nothing salacious.  Not a single sensual hint throughout and yet the writing and the characters kept my eyes glued to the pages from start to finish.  Luckily for me  The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock is not a long book.  It’s a thin book without noticeable flaw.  May I say congratulations for the outstanding editing?

The Hardest Thing to Do is the fourth book in Penelope Wilcock’s Hawk and Dove series. These books chronicle the events in a Benedictine monastery, and follow the monks who live their during their eventful lives.
In this fourth volume, the titular abbot (called both Peregrine and Columbe, meaning “hawk” and “dove” respectively) has passed away, and the former infirmarian, John, is away finishing the necessary training to become the new abbot, leaving the monastery in the hands of a temporary leader.

The Hardest Thing to Do takes place during Lent and shows the drastic deprivations the monks endure while preparing for the Easter when the gentle quiet of their lives will be interrupted by an influx of visitors, especially patrons upon whom the monks depend for their meager livelihood.

Enter into the tale of self-denial and introspection, a refugee from a burned out Augustinian monastery noted for its gross mistreatment of  the people in their village, [many suspect arson] but also known for having mistreated their now diseased but still much beloved Father Columbe some time in the past.

Into this quagmire of discontent comes the newly minted Benedictine Abbot John, who must decide if this wayward and now homeless monk may find a new home and new brothers in this new abbey after having been turned away by everyone he sought refuse with in his long journey.  But despite the prayerful requirements of this sacred period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Easter, some of the brothers being human hold grudges that supersede not only reason, but also basic compassion.

The characters talk of other characters in a way that feels realistic, but also gives you a glimpse of the character behind that name. William, Their uninvited Augustinian guest holds and entirely different memory his encounter with Columbe and can’t understand why the Benedictines consider it so terrible they would hold such grudges against him. To him the encounter had been a friendly debate to make a point to a third party.  Rather than seeing their point of view that he had humiliated their beloved abbot, he considered Columbe the winner of the debate and was himself quite fond of the old abbot for having bested him. Overall, The Hardest Thing to Do was to put aside rash judgements and learn to forgive; to be more Christ like in their inner lives.

Not being a Catholic myself, I can’t critique The Hardest Thing to Do from a sectarian perspective but I found many of the monks sorely lacking in Christian charity although the book was enjoyable and as mentioned earlier virtual;ly free of errors which I as a novelist consider to be a remarkable accomplishment.

The Hardest Thing to Do provides an interesting look into monastic life and may prove useful to someone looking for a relatively inoffensive read.

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From the author of Sappho’s Sisters

Thank you so much, Peggy, for including the blurb for my story here. Sappho was indeed a very important and influential woman throughout history.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Sappho's Sisters"

sapphos sisters cover
Lady Eustacia Lumley is the only child of the Earl of Wentworth. It is her duty to marry well and ensure the succession.
Margaret Durrell is the fourth daughter of a gently born, but near penniless vicar. She has no option but to marry a man who can provide for her and possibly for some of her sisters as well.
Best friends since their days at Miss Marcomb's Academy for Young Ladies, both young women are very interested in Sappho's poetry and ideas. One evening while visiting the Wentworth estate, Margaret has a headache and Eustacia offers to massage her scalp. This act of kindness leads them into an encounter they both find very enjoyable.
The two young women fall deeply in love, but is there any hope for them? Or will they both have to conform to the rigid rules of Regency society?
Sappho's Sisters: Excerpt PG 13
After a week in Town, Eustacia was keen to return to Green Meadows, her home outside London. It was ideally situated on good farming land, a full day's journey from the bustle of the city—close enough to make a trip to Town for shopping or parties easy, but not so close that people were endlessly arriving unannounced.
She was particularly pleased to have Margaret staying with them for at least three months. Margaret's long-suffering Papa despaired of marrying his four motherless daughters appropriately. Both Margaret's Mama and her Papa came from the nobility, but the Reverend Mr. Durrell had inadequate funds to launch them onto the marriage mart. He loved them and wanted them to be happy, not just married to the highest bidder.
"Ah well, he won't need to worry about Margaret for a while," she mused.
Although Margaret was eighteen to Eustacia's twenty-four, they both had lively minds and had formed an instant bond in the brief year they'd both been at Miss Marcomb's Academy for Young Ladies—Margaret's first year there and Eustacia's last. They both loved learning and had read avidly. Since then, they'd kept in touch with long letters and had recently been reading and discussing Sappho's poetry. Eustacia was looking forward to talking more about it with her friend.
Sappho's sharp imagery, her immediacy, her control, and the rhythm and almost melody of her words were immensely appealing. Not to mention some of her underlying ideas—ideas which were increasingly compelling to Eustacia.
Eustacia had never been sexually attracted to men. While all the other young ladies at school had been sighing over the dancing master and the riding master, Eustacia had only desired to learn the subjects they taught. Their male beauty stirred her heart not one iota. When she had first made her curtsy to the Ton, many handsome and eligible young men had sought her hand for that lascivious dance, the waltz. Not one of them had made her heart beat faster. Fortunately, her father, the earl, had made no attempt to push her to accept any of the three very flattering offers he had received for her hand. Even more fortunately, Gervase's younger brother, Anthony, had three fine, strong sons to inherit the title, so there was no pressure on Gervase to marry again and produce an heir, or to marry off his daughter to ensure a grandson to inherit.
But Margaret. Ahh, Margaret did make her palms sweat and her heart beat faster. Margaret's bright, inquiring mind and ability to converse intelligently on any topic. Margaret's soft brown eyes and shiny brown hair. Her white skin and pale cheeks that flushed enchantingly when Eustacia smiled at her.
Eustacia had read widely about Sapphic love and was eager to experience it—but only with Margaret and only if Margaret was willing. Meanwhile, her reading had taught her much, and with the help of a handheld looking glass, she had learned a lot about the art of self-pleasure. As for the anatomist Mateo Renaldo Colombo, who claimed to have discovered the amor Veneris, vel dulcedo—"the sweetness of Venus"—Eustacia was willing to bet her late mother's emeralds that Sappho and her followers had known about their nubbins six hundred years before the birth of Christ!
Visit the Sappho's Sisters page at Logical-Lust Publications:

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