Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Charlemagne Pursuit By Steve Berry

Steve Berry’s hero, Cotton Malone, has seen the Treasure of the Templar Knights, the library of Alexandria, the tomb of Alexander the Great and the Amber Room of Russia; now he is in pursuit of an ancient culture that predates recorded history and supposedly was much more advanced in science, mathematics, architecture and civics than any other civilization and had some influence on early man as he developed. Berry has used actual history and myths to tell the story of the hunt for the these people, called the “Ahnenerbe”, which began in Antarctica. The Americans, the Germans, The French and the Russians have followed clues and writings from artifacts discovered in Antarctica and much earlier when Otto III opened Charlemagne’s tomb 1200 years ago and supposedly discovered a book of containing writing unknown to any people.
The Germans, under Hitler, decided that the old "superior" race must be German and they wanted to prove their “Arian Race” theory. The Americans were heavily involved in the Cold War and if this old race had technology that would give them an advantage they wanted the secrets. Everything the United States did was cloaked in secrecy and there was rivalry between the politicians and branches of the Pentagon.
Even for Berry, the story surrounding the history is a bit far fetched; lots of thrilling action a bit of gratuitous sex,clearly defined good guys and bad guys and lots of geography. Berry really does his research. Best part for me was learning more about Otto III and Charlemagne by going on the internet. Reading about the accomplishments of the old race “the first civilization” and how references to such a people is found in Egypt, and other early cultures is certainly food for thought.
Good Berry novel!

Signora da Vinci By Robin Maxwell

Absorbing and colorful, fictionalized, biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother. Very little is known about Caterina, the unwed mother of Leonardo. His father, Piero, took him away as was his right in those days and raised him as a servant in the Vinci home.
Robin Maxwell took it for granted that Leonardo got his genius from his mother so she built this story about a remarkable and talented women, trained by her father, an apothecary, who had great love for her son. She convinced the father that Leonardo, who was very early, precocious, curious and very intelligent, should be sent to Florence to study with the master artisan, Verrochio. As a bastard son, Leonardo was precluded from any civic jobs. Piero’s main business was in Florence but he totally ignored Leonardo and plays a minor role in the story.
Leonardo goes to Florence to become an apprentice; his mother misses him so she goes to Florence in the guise of a young man; Leonardo’s “Uncle Cato”. Cato sets up an apothecary which is very successful and because she is, also known as a healer, she attracts the attention of Lorenzo de Medici who becomes very impressed by this “young man’s” talents and intelligence. Lorenzo, Sandro Botticelli, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Christoforo Landino, Verrichio and other progressive thinkers are brought into the story as these men, Cato and others meet secretly to discuss ideas that were considered heresy by the church.
An interesting view of the times and happenings in Florence and Milan and how the church tried to tame two of the most progressive cities in Italy. And most important, the sacrifices a mother will make to insure the success of her son. I liked this one.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Independance of Miss Mary Bennet By Colleen McCullough

Writers continue to be fascinated by the characters created by Jane Austen. Australian born and acclaimed author of “The Thorn Birds” and other great novels has chosen Mary Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice”, one of the middle and rather plain sisters as the center piece of a story that is set some 20 years after Jane Austin’s novel closes. Mary had been shuttled off to a manor purchased by Fitz Darcy to care for her mother far enough away from Pemberly to make visits there rare. Mother Bennet dies and Mary decides that she will, no longer, be a drudge and will make something of her life; she will travel and write a book. Her actions cause problems and embarrassment to Darcy and her sisters. To further complicate things, she is kidnapped on one of her journeys . Colleen McCullough brings us up to date as to what has happened to the four other sisters as well as Charle Binkley’s sister Caroline(haughty as ever).
Elizabeth has four daughters and a son who is a disappointment to Fitz and the former ardor seems to have cooled. Fitz’s political ambitions are driving him. Jane is producing babies every two years and Charlie has a mistress. Lydia is drinking and whoring; her husband, George, has died as a soldier and Kitty has settled down with an aged wealthy land owner. McCullough, skillfully, moves all these people, the servants and some important new characters through danger and adventure to a very satisfactory climax.

Terminal Freeze By Lincoln Child

This was, somewhat, a disappointment. The characters were not very strong and the plot seemed very much like “Relic” except the “monster” came out of a chunk of ice instead of the jungle and the chase was through the corridors of an ice station rather that a great museum. It just left me cold, sorry Lincoln. I am still a fan of you and Douglas Preston so I will wait for and read your next.