Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sirens Over the Hudson (How do you pay for your mistakes after your trust fund runs out?)

Dear commies, heretics and snowflakes!
I am delighted to announce the release of my novel #10, Sirens Over the Hudson, set in Recession-era Tarrytown. In light of the recent election, this novel will entertain and offend you regardless of which side you are on. As you probably know by now, I do not discriminate. I dislike all people equally (just kidding). Jokes aside, I find something humorous in every individual, in every idea, in every movement. Hats off to my wonderful publisher Crossroad Press for their continuous belief in my work, my gorgeous model friends Mark Ryan Anderson and Kathleen Raab for posing for the cover.

Westchester Co., NY – 2008. Panic engulfs the financial district, but the privileged youth of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow is not feeling the sting just yet. For the children of bankers and Wall Street sharks, the summer holds the promise of rock concerts, boat rides on the Hudson and flippant hookups. Gregory King spends the final weeks of the school year skipping classes, playing guitar and toying with Islam. Greg has a secret vice: he likes to take other people's things. For a while he manages to get away with petty theft – until he becomes obsessed with Cyntie van Vossen, his classmate’s girlfriend. Their affair sets off a chain reaction of treachery and violence. The bars of the gilded cage start bending beneath the weight of the secrets encasing the community where money solves every problem. How will Gregory pay for his mistakes after his trust fund runs out? Sirens over the Hudson will herald his misery.

Friday, May 19, 2017

La Rotta - Medieval "club" hit

Bonjour, heretics!
For the past six weeks I have been mentally stuck in late 15th century France in attempts to resurrect a novel started many years ago. I am not ashamed to admit that I was an avid Renaissance Fair performer. Here is a picture of me dancing in 100 degree weather at a festival in Sterling Forest. In my adolescence I had studied Irish, Scottish and Renaissance dance extensively and, naturally, grasped at every chance to perform. 

The tune the musicians in this photo are performing is arguably one of the most iconic dance pieces of the late Medieval period. It's called La Rotta - meaning "road" in Italian. Even though the tune was popularized in Italy, the composer is said to be of Hungarian descent. This versatile melody can be easily adapted and modernized. I have never heard a rendition of La Rotta I did not love or felt tempted to dance to. Here is one of my absolute favorite ones by Dufay Collective. It has that vibrant pan-Romanic vibe. 

And, if you like the sound of La Rotta, there is a more extensive compilation of "party mix" from the Middle Ages.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guillaume de Machaut - the acceptable way for a priest to have a love affair

Cheerios, Commies and Heretics!
While doing some research for my latest novel (set in 15th century France and dealing with ecclesiastic music) I went through my notes on Guillaume de Machaut, one of the most prominent and prolific composers of sacred and secular music of the late Middle Ages, who had served as a canon at the Reims Cathedral alongside his brother Jean. I have a number of his albums, including the polyphonic Mass of Our Lady. Guillaume de Machaut can be considered a double menace, being a poet and a composer, equally successful in both areas. Unsurprisingly, his poetry was devoted to the topic of courtly love, the accent being on self-sacrifice versus sexual gratification.

Everyone knows about Pierre Abelard and Heloise, probably because of the gruesome way his reproductive career ended. Not many people know about another love story from medieval France - that of Guillaume de Machaut and a certain young maiden by the name P√©ronne d'Armenti√®res, who allegedly served as his muse and editor in one. She is said to be the inspiration behind his poem Le Voir Dit (A True Tale). The relationship has every right to be called controversial, given the age difference - de Machaut was in his 60s, while the young woman was in her late teens. We are talking 40+ age gap. Oh, and that minor bit about him being a priest and bound by the whole vow of celibacy? Apparently, given the fact that he was in poor health, the romantic relationship was never consummated physically. But it was definitely not a purely Platonic relationship, or a father-daughter, or teacher-pupil type of relationship. It was deeply romantic, minus the carnal component.  Was it not the very idea of courtly love that Guillaume de Machaut praised in his poems?

There also seems to be a misconception regarding the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the physical beauty and sexuality of its canons. Contrary to popular belief, the ideal was not a sexless eunuch but a red-blooded male with full-blow libido. Without those urges, the priest would have nothing to struggle against. It was believed that that very struggle against the natural urges and temptations that led a man to spiritual refinement. In that context, Guillaume was an icon of self-control. Essentially a rock star, sworn into celibacy, he managed to have a romantic affair without breaking the vow or earning a reputation of a licentious, dirty old man. His poem Le Voir Dit, inspired by that love affair, was never regarded as a product of a sinful relationship.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mistress Suffragette - not every girl wants to be "respected"

If you are craving a good courtesan story in the tradition of Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders, Mistress Suffragette is just what you are looking for. Personally, I am a little weary of novels featuring heroines who stomp their feet and claim that they will "not be treated like property" and demand to be "respected" and talk about "dignity". It seems like some authors put their own 21st century thoughts into the heads of 19th century women. It's a form of wishful thinking and projection. Newsflash: not every woman objects to being objectified or treated like property. I know we are not supposed to talk about it, but it's true. Penelope Stanton, the heroine of "Mistress Suffragette" - almost an oxymoron title - is someone who looks at her family's financial predicament without needless pathos. She does throw a temporary pity-party after her father loses his fortune and her fiance/cousin breaks the engagement, but she also recognizes the opportunities for social advancement - and sexual gratification - that life throws her way. The novel explores the benefits and perils of the mistress position. The fact is that mistresses of influential men had a lot more latitude and mobility than official wives. But what happens if you fall out of favor with your benefactor? The novel is original and refreshing because it highlights the market crash of the 1890s, a topic that is not frequently explored in literature. It is also refreshing that the novel is not set primarily in New York. This is not an Edith Wharton knock-off. 

My thoughts:
A young woman without prospects at a ball in Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island is a target for a certain kind of “suitor.” At the Memorial Day Ball during the Panic of 1893, impoverished but feisty Penelope Stanton draws the unwanted advances of a villainous millionaire banker who preys on distressed women—the incorrigible Edgar Daggers. Over a series of encounters, he promises Penelope the financial security she craves, but at what cost? Skilled in the art of flirtation, Edgar is not without his charms, and Penelope is attracted to him against her better judgment. Initially, as Penelope grows into her own in the burgeoning early Women’s Suffrage Movement, Edgar exerts pressure, promising to use his power and access to help her advance. But can he be trusted, or are his words part of an elaborate mind game played between him and his wife? During a glittering age where a woman’s reputation is her most valuable possession, Penelope must decide whether to compromise her principles for love, lust, and the allure of an easier life.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beauty & the Beast - a tale rescued from the clutches of Disney

Rachel L. Demeter's Beauty and the Beast was one novel I anticipated. I knew she was going to strip the unnecessary coatings of sugar that Disney and Hollywood persistently put on the classic tale. I applaud the author for not shying away from killing innocent children or having her heroines survive sexual assaults. A superhero is not going to show up last minute and rescue the victimized party. I really don't understand people who read fairy tales to "escape" and complain about having their G-rate expectations shattered. People who are that triggered and that disturbed by violence should read Hallmark cards. At least you know there will be no unpleasant surprises. Like it or not, but infant death and violence against women were elements of reality. Classic fairy tales reflected that reality - before the politically correct producers got hold of them. If you ask any psychologist or any expert in European folklore, and they'll tell you that the story of Beauty and the Beast centers around the Stockholm syndrome. The Beast's inner humanity does not become apparent right away. You need to spend some time in closed quarters with the monster before you start seeing the Man in him.

I really loved how the author developed the back story for her Beauty. The wicked stepsisters are actually orphaned and younger than her, which gives them some grievance leverage. The two teenage girls have to band together to capitalize on their stepfather's physical vulnerability. They know his end is near, so they try to milk him financially while they can. It's an interesting insight into female and sibling psychology. There should be a separate spinoff novel about the wicked stepsisters. They are not just stock characters. Their predicament makes them borderline sympathetic, because you know where they are coming from.

Because this novel violates so many traditional romance taboos, it's not a romance. Rather, it's romantic grind house.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Unholy Alliance - a romantic suspense by Kathleen Rowland

Greetings, commies!

Every once in a while I like to challenge myself by reading work outside of my comfort zone. Being sarcastic and pessimistic, I don't generally read books that have "romantic" in the genre, because you know there is going to be steamy sex between consensual adults, pillow talk and some semblance of a happy ending. Nevertheless, every once in a while a review copy lands in my lap. Anything that has to do with the Irish mob is fascinating. The Irish mob does not get as much coverage in fiction. Kathleen Rowland's Unholy Alliance is a second book in the Donahue Cousins series. The first book Deadly Alliance is the first one in the series, and I haven't read it yet, but there is enough of a back story in the second book to set the scene. Given that Unholy Alliance is a romantic suspense, a genre piece, there is only so much latitude the author can allow herself. It means that the rough edges have to be smoothed over. The crime cannot be too seedy, and the sex cannot be too smutty or kinky (although, there are some rather explicit descriptions of various body parts fitting into each other). The novel's protagonist, Tori/Victoria, has a criminal past, but it has to be for a crime she did not commit. So Tori is not a sympathetic redemption seeker. She is, essentially, a damsel in distress with a veil of martyrdom around her. And the man who pulls her out of jail, Attorney Grady Fletcher, whose only blemish is being a divorced guilt-ridden dad, is her knight in shining armor. So if you take comfort in this particular genre, then Unholy Alliance will prove a very satisfying read.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Girl Like You - a Depression era mystery that reads like an escape fantasy

Greetings, commies!
There is no right or wrong way to interpret a great novel.  A well-written multilayered mystery is open to interpretation. Michelle Cox's debut A Girl Like You is one of such novels. When people feel disempowered and cornered, they often start fantasizing about other people's lives to get distracted from their own misery. They start concocting fanciful plots. It's one of the coping mechanisms with the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. This is why I wanted to share my personal interpretation of this novel as an escape fantasy that takes place in the head of a young woman who ends up with too much on her shoulders.

Henrietta Von Harmon works as a 26 girl at a corner bar on Chicago’s northwest side. It’s 1935, but things still aren’t looking up since the big crash and her father’s subsequent suicide, leaving Henrietta to care for her antagonistic mother and younger siblings. Henrietta is eventually persuaded to take a job as a taxi dancer at a local dance hall—and just when she’s beginning to enjoy herself, the floor matron turns up dead.

When aloof Inspector Clive Howard appears on the scene, Henrietta agrees to go undercover for him—and is plunged into Chicago’s grittier underworld. Meanwhile, she’s still busy playing mother hen to her younger siblings, as well as to pesky neighborhood boy Stanley, who believes himself in love with her and keeps popping up in the most unlikely places, determined to keep Henrietta safe—even from the Inspector, if need be. Despite his efforts, however, and his penchant for messing up the Inspector’s investigation, the lovely Henrietta and the impenetrable Inspector find themselves drawn to each other in most unsuitable ways.

My thoughts:
Michelle Cox's debut novel "A Girl Like You" reads like an escape fantasy. I am not sure if I am the first reader who got this impression, but I can almost see this entire story happening inside Henrietta's head. At nineteen, Henrietta finds herself with so many burdens upon her shoulders. The systemic economic depression that affects the whole country, the personal stigma of having a father who had committed suicide, the pressure from her guilt-tripping mother, the physical needs of her younger siblings who are much too young to be sympathetic. But the greatest burden of all, perhaps, is her beauty. She really hasn't figured out what to do with it, how to use to her advantage. So far, being beautiful has brought more trouble than gain. Committed as she is to helping her family survive, poor Henrietta cannot seem to keep a job. She is stuck in the vicious cycle of being assaulted by male coworkers and rowdy clients, and getting fired for sticking up for herself. She clings to her instinctive chastity and her principles, but is being chaste a luxury "a girl like her" cannot afford under the circumstances? So when Henrietta's life starts taking unexpected turns, veering off into the world of danger and mystery, as a reader, I could not help but wonder how much of it was real, and how much was imaginary. Perhaps, she never leaves the drudgery of her physical existence, and the thrilling murder mystery and her romance with Inspector Howard are mere figments of her frustrated imagination? Regardless of how you interpret Henrietta's adventures, "A Girl Like You" is an exciting read that combines gritty realism with mystery and romance.