November 28, 2006

The Other Boleyn Girl

by Philippa Gregory

My regular book club met for Sunday brunch at Asgards, in Cambridge to discuss this historical fiction. We had an interesting discussion about the story, life in court and the idea of historical fiction. I love historical fiction. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I will certainly check out her other works.

The novel is set in the time of King Henry VIII’s court – a period of time I have been fascinated with ever since I first read about Henry’s 6 wives. The man single-handedly usurped the hold of the Catholic Church, all over the love of a woman/women not his wife. Absolutely fascinating. This story is told from the viewpoint of Mary Boleyn – an excellent choice, since we only have sketchy details of her life. Gregory depicts court life and the power struggles brilliantly. I think I read this book in less than 24 hours – it’s a fast read, and well written.

From Publishers Weekly:
"Sisterly rivalry is the basis of this fresh, wonderfully vivid retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn. Anne, her sister Mary and their brother George are all brought to the king's court at a young age, as players in their uncle's plans to advance the family's fortunes. Mary, the sweet, blond sister, wins King Henry VIII's favor when she is barely 14 and already married to one of his courtiers. Their affair lasts several years, and she gives Henry a daughter and a son. But her dark, clever, scheming sister, Anne, insinuates herself into Henry's graces, styling herself as his adviser and confidant. Soon she displaces Mary as his lover and begins her machinations to rid him of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. This is only the beginning of the intrigue that Gregory so handily chronicles, capturing beautifully the mingled hate and nearly incestuous love Anne, Mary and George ("kin and enemies all at once") feel for each other and the toll their family's ambition takes on them. Mary, the story's narrator, is the most sympathetic of the siblings, but even she is twisted by the demands of power and status; charming George, an able plotter, finally brings disaster on his own head by falling in love with a male courtier. Anne, most tormented of all, is ruthless in her drive to become queen, and then to give Henry a male heir. Rather than settling for a picturesque rendering of court life, Gregory conveys its claustrophobic, all-consuming nature with consummate skill. In the end, Anne's famous, tragic end is offset by Mary's happier fate, but the self-defeating folly of the quest for power lingers longest in the reader's mind."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

November 27, 2006

I, Mona Lisa

by Jeanne Kalogridis

From Publishers Weekly:
“Set against a backdrop of political and religious conflicts in 15th-century Medici-ruled Florence, Kalogridis's bloody historical (after The Borgia Bride) identifies the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's painting as Lisa di Antonio Gherardini. Lisa was the daughter of Madonna Lucrezia, wife of a wealthy wool merchant who also enchanted both da Vinci and Lorenzo de' Medici's brother Giuliano, murdered by conspirators in 1478. Giuliano's assassination—and the later murder of Lucrezia—presage a reign of religious terror led by a monk known as Savonarola and the retreat of the Medicis in the face of invasion from France's King Charles. An adult Lisa attracts the romantic attentions of a young Medici scion, whom she marries for love. (His father, Lorenzo, commissions her portrait from da Vinci.) But violent events soon separate the couple and a brutal Savonarola follower tells Lisa that her husband is dead—and her father's life in danger—unless she marries him instead. Lisa survives, an avenging angel, proving herself worthy of da Vinci's immortal artistry. Kalogridis's fevered bodice ripper invents a passionate woman behind La Gioconda's enigmatic smile.”
Copyright © Reed Business Information

I finished this historical fiction this past weekend, and this is the first book I’ve read on Mona Lisa. I love the history of this time period in Florence – there is just so much going on! And the Medici’s are fascinating. Politics, religion, love, betrayal, loyalty, passion, beauty, art, power - how can it be a bad read? Lisa is Leonardo da Vinci’s daughter? Am going to have to research more about that.

This is not a bodice-ripper (if that’s what you are looking for), but a really good read. I have not read any work by this author before, and will certainly look at her other work.

November 16, 2006

2006 MCAS

In the 2006 MCAS Scores,

7th grade students at Lowell Public ranked: 246/281 in Math (with a score of 23 out of a possible max of 100)

and 263/281 in English (with a score of 40 out of 100)

To see how your town did use the link below.

Are you angry yet?

November 14, 2006

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

by Elizabeth Gilbert

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book on CD on my daily commute.

It’s a memoir about Elizabeth, who at the age of 31 moves with her husband to the burbs and begins to try getting pregnant, only to discover that she does not want to be either pregnant or married.

After a nasty divorce, she takes off for a year of travel and recuperation to the three i’s: Italy for pleasure, India for spiritual seeking and Indonesia for learning to live in balance.

The audio book is read by the author, and I think I much preferred the audio version to the written one – am not sure that I would have made it through parts of the written book.

Gilbert describes her adventures, soul searching and healing with wit, humor and compassion.

A delightful gem of a book to listen to, and inspire us to seek pleasure, spirituality and balance in our own lives.

November 8, 2006

Get out the Vote!

The first black governor of Massachusetts and the first woman Speaker of the House! Am quite pleased with the election results.

It is now time to hold our leaders feet to the fire – let’s see the change that is needed and not blow this opportunity to really do something of value.

It has been interesting to watch the ad campaign on Ballot #1 for MA residents - the attempt to change a rather archaic rule still on the books. Should MA allow the sale of wine in grocery stores – contingent upon local town approval. For those not from this state, today, one has to go to a liquor store to get wine, beer, etc.

“The battle over wine sales, known as Question 1, was the most expensive ballot question campaign in state history, with opposing sides combining to spend more than $11.5 million.” –

No doubt as to who was funding the opposing side. The scare tactics were amazing – and what’s more interesting, nearly 56% of MA voters agreed that being able to buy your favorite bottle of red or white, while buying your groceries, was indeed going to create greater death and mayhem! Unbelievable!

Good thing we don’t have “should we pin a huge scarlet letter on bad women?” as a ballot question in this state.

November 3, 2006

Books on Venice

1. The City of Falling Angels
- by John Berendt
- from the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
- not as well written as Midnight
- the setting is Venice, and is quite an enjoyable exploration of its quirky inhabitants
- read this earlier this year before we have finalized plans to go to Venice

2. Through a Glass, Darkly
- by Donna Leon
- a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery
- my first exposure to Donna Leon
- listened to this book on my commute in September
- fun and light story; loved hearing how Italian words were pronounced
- made me hungry

3. Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent
- by Mary Laven
- non fiction look at the nuns in Venice
- am reading this now and am absolutely fascinated
- most of what is know is based on reports based on state and church authorities documenting these
"places of vice and indiscipline” and calling for reform
- absolutely fascinating – have I said this already?

4. The usual guide book – Fodors, Lonely Planet, etc.

Elephant Walk

Had dinner last night at Elephant Walk in Cambridge. For some reason neither of the branches in Cambridge or Waltham is as good at the Brookline location. For example, the Waltham location has no qualms about serving re-heated rolls. Maybe I just need to figure out the day when the head chef is on duty. Either way do yourself a favor and skip the house Merlot – I’ve had more potent communion wine!

This was my second dinner with the International Club – a group of 35-70 year old folks not born in the US, who meet monthly for dinner in the Boston area. Have met delightful folks from France, Algeria, China, Spain and the UK.

Our dinner topics the first night revolved around getting to know you kind of stuff – what brought you to the states, how long have you been here, etc. And you know with a group like that, we launched fairly quickly into politics.

Last night we discussed the idea of having parallel cultures and languages, and how there has been research that shows that there is no merging of the tracks. The reality that I am Indian today, Kenyan tomorrow, and Americanized yesterday is something easily understood and validated.

An evening spend discussing culture, travel, the challenges of personal space in different cultures, yoga, meditation, tai chi, Sufism……. a diverse and delightful feast of thoughts and ideas.

November 2, 2006

Dancing with the Dishes

Last night as I was doing dishes (I heard that gasp), I had the TV tuned to “Dancing with the Stars”.

Now maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t get this show. Why is it so popular?

Okay so maybe there are some thrills to watching Emmet Smith the football jock take a whirl on the dance floor.

The show I watched had a really bad singer (what is the appeal?) sing a song while several not so good dancers – not the stars – perform a routine. Then IL DIVO sang. What all this singing has to do with the show, other than pack in more commercial time, I don’t now.

I gather that there is some repressed human urge to see others get “voted off” that these shows have tapped into – and quite successfully I might add. Just look at the plethora of shows that vote someone off the island, or fire them, or …..

I don’t mean to sound judgmental at all. I really seek enlightenment. If you are a Dancing with the Stars fan, I’d love to hear what hooks you.

Views of Mt Rainier

This is the view from my sister's house in Olympia, Washington.
The most amazing sunrises and sunsets.
A little piece of heaven.

I've been told that Rainier only shows herself to those pure of heart. Been told stories of visitors who have never seen her during several visits. Well, they must have some heart cleansing to do.

(click pics to enlarge)

November 1, 2006

The Hungry Tide: A Novel

By Amitav Ghosh

I have spent the last couple of weeks being transported to the Sundarbans, a vast archipelago in the Bay of Bengal.

I listened to this book on CD. My first exposure to Amitav Ghosh.

Lunar rainbows (is this news to anyone else?), man-eating tigers, cyclones, mangrove forests, Irrawaddy dolphins, tides, and the clash between civilization and the wild.

I was captivated by the characters, their stories and struggles.

Time well spent on my daily commute.