Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Goodbye, My Love - paranormal romance through the eyes of a cynic

Greetings, commies and lovers and kinky nannies!

Today's spotlight is on Maggie Tideswell, a South African romance author and her latest release Goodbye, My Love. As you all know, I am the most unwholesome, twisted soccer mommy in Connecticut, and I find something ugly about everything beautiful thing. I also find something beautiful about every ugly thing. In fact, pretty-ugly things are my favorite things in this world. I like ambiguity and uncertainty, room for dirty fantasies and doubt.  But how ambivalent can be a novel in such a seemingly straightforward genre as romance?

Jessica James needs a new job and her only prospect as a nanny is with a remotely located veterinarian who only wants a “mature” candidate. But youthful Jess has faced tougher challenges, and she is determined to show the very handsome yet rude widower that she is the perfect choice to care for his autistic 4-year-old daughter, no matter how much he scowls.

Dr. Ben Arnold is still grieving, and not only about the recent death of his beautiful wife. He is still coping with the knowledge his profound love for her was unreciprocated. The demands of working and taking care of Amber, his autistic young daughter, have Ben overwhelmed and the last thing he needs is an insanely strong physical reaction to a nanny who is the first to seem to connect with his beloved delicate daughter – and the last he thinks he can handle in his life.

Jess is an unseasonal storm to suddenly sweep through Ben’s life, and may be the balm he needs. While strange occurrences all around them defy answers and explanations, the unexpected arrival of Ben’s late wife’s sisters, including her identical twin, on the one-year anniversary of her death does nothing to help dispel the intense and instant desire between Jess and Ben – and Jess’ glimpses of a life long past only adds to the surreal sense of the estate called Weltevreden.

My thoughts:
They say behind every cynic there is a frustrated romantic, and I guess, the same is true in the reverse. I got a free advance copy of this novel, and even though it's labeled as a paranormal romance, I read it through the prism of my own cynicism and misanthropy. My impression is that the author Maggie Tideswell is mocking some of the traditional tools that romance authors employ to solicit an immediate emotional reaction from the reader. There's nothing like a widowed dad seeking a caregiver for his daughter Amber who also happens to be autistic (and blonde, and beautiful, and ethereal). You have the main ingredients for a classic tear jerker. But it's also how you mix them and how you present them that affects the overall impression. There are subtle clues in her narrative that suggest that the author might be mocking the genre itself. The very title Goodbye, My Love borders on tongue-in-cheek. Her choice of profession for her male protagonist Ben is also interesting. He is a veterinary surgeon, so he spends his days serving the needs of creatures who are non-verbal. I am not comparing an autistic child to an animal - I'd get crucified for it. But I can see the parallel between the way he interacts with his animal patients and the way he interacts with his child. Also, I know firsthand that veterinarians are often socially awkward and have trouble communicating with fellow human beings. Ben certainly does not come across as suave or even civil in the beginning of the novel, when Jess, a vocationally frustrated young woman, comes to interview for a nanny position. He greets her with a few rude comments regarding her age and - gasp - a boner. In a way, their interaction reminds me of that of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. The lovemaking scenes, I must remark, are very traditional. Do not expect anything kinky. Eventually, Dr. Ben Arnold melt and evolves (or devolves?) into a traditional romantic leading man with bronzed muscles, even though his breath smells of whiskey and cigarettes. Being a sadistic pervert, I would have liked to see more bondage and S&M and dirty talk. But then again, I am not a typical romance reader. If you like more tame, traditional romance novels with just a touch of black pepper on your vanilla scoop, Goodbye, My Love is for you. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Denis du Moulin - from Medieval "soccer dad" to cardinal

Bonjour, heretics!
Today's spotlight is on Denis du Moulin, who occupied the bishop's seat in Paris until his death in 1447. What makes his odds-defying career unique is that it started so late in life. Before joining the Church, he was married to a lady named Marie de Courtenay. It was only after her death that he decided to become a priest. Normally, a man in his situation would be placed in a monastic versus ecclesiastic environment. The fact that he became a bishop is nothing short of miraculous. The Church gave strong preference to those candidates who had been on the clerical path since childhood and who had never been married. There was a well-founded concern that the newly ordained priest might try to use his influence and ecclesiastic resources to benefit his children. Also, canons who were sexually experienced prior to ordination were considered to be an an increased risk of lapsing into fornication. The Church regarded those men with a certain amount of skepticism. Denis du Moulin must have had some pretty impressive accomplishments to offer, if the Church was willing to overlook his marital history. In 1440, he was offered the position of a cardinal but for some reason declined the promotion.

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.