Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl

When I visited London in 2011, a tour guide pointed out the location where a house once stood where William Shakespeare rented a room for a period of time, as evidenced by his signature on a court deposition regarding a domestic dispute involving the homeowner and his son-in-law. Charles Nicholl’s historical, practically forensic exploration of all the players even remotely involved in this drama, as well as the time period, and its cultural context, is stunning. If his research is exhaustive, his narrative is anything but. Fans of Shakespeare and English history like me will be unable to put this book down. From what would seem, at first, like a dead-end, four centuries-old historical Easter egg, Charles Nicholl the bloodhound sniffs out a drama laden with intrigue, and in so doing offers a far reaching, fully documented history leasson. I particularly enjoy historical works that allow me to see a period through a very narrowly focused telescope. You'll be amazed at what you'll learn of the early Jacobite period via "head-tires." Strongly recommended.

The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street is available in hardcover, paperback, and audio. And can I just add, not that it matters, I love this cover. The cover gods were good to Mr. Nicholls, and he should thank them. Published in the US by Viking Adult.

Note: Since a majority of titles I blog about are written for younger audiences, it seems worth mentioning that this is a work for the adult market. Not that younger readers couldn't enjoy it, but many of them might find the extent of the scholarship to be a barrier.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. I cracked it open intending to read the first few chapters one afternoon, and stayed up until midnight to finish it. Meticulously researched and wholly authentic, Josie Moraine’s story had me glued to the page.

Fans of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY will find an entirely new story here, yet there are some common threads to appreciate. Once again Sepetys has placed a young woman in an historically accurate yet horrifically dangerous situation, with eroding support systems, and allies in the unlikeliest of people. She’s given us a heroine whose strength comes from daring to believe she can escape, survive, and thrive against terrible odds. Josie is conflicted but compassionate, lost but loyal. Compassion, loyalty, and hope, untinged by sentimentality, are what drew me into both OUT OF THE EASY and BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.

It's 1950. Josie is the 17-year old daughter of Louise, a New Orleans prostitute. Whenever she meets a kind, intelligent man, she adds him to her notebook of fantasy father candidates. Louise is narcissistic, vapid, treacherous, and self-destructive. (She’s the kind of literary mother who always gives me a warm feeling that maybe I’m not doing so badly after all.)  At age seven, Josie could mix martinis like a French Quarter bartender, and sleep in hotel lobbies while Louise turned tricks. In one sense Josie has raised herself, but she’s always had the protection of Willie, a Conti Street madam (and Louise’s boss), whose brothel Josie cleans each morning, and Charlie, an author and bookstore owner who lets Josie sleep in a back room in his shop. Josie reads in the shop and dreams of college, but the seamy French Quarter’s reputation hangs about her like bayou fog. Affluent businessmen who frequent the brothel know intimately whose daughter Josie is. It will take a college far, far away from The Big Easy to give Josie a chance to be her own woman, not Quarter trash, though leaving would devastate her patron and de facto mother, Willie. Josie is determined never to sell out like Louise did. But when Louise is implicated in a murder, and skips town owing a blood debt to the mob, Josie’s chances of freedom dwindle trigger-thin. Caught between death and betrayal, Josie realizes her mother has left her no alternative but to follow her, er, career path simply to stay alive.

My synopsis sadly lacks a mention of two conveniently gorgeous young men who take a close interest in Josie: Patrick, Charlie’s piano-playing son who works with Josie in the bookstore, and flower vender-slash-biker-turned-mechanic, Jesse. So consider them mentioned. Warmly.

OUT OF THE EASY is a gripping read. Willie, Cokie, Dora, Sweety, Sadie, and even Evangeline have stayed with me since I finished the novel. Ruta Sepetys has again introduced to us a young woman of substance who refuses to surrender her hopes for a full life despite the most depraved circumstances, one who finds flowers of affection and kindness growing in the most barren places. Strongly recommended. One to watch in 2013.

OUT OF THE EASY releases in hardcover February 12, 2013 from Philomel. Available to pre-order from your local store. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two poems for Sandy Hook School, Newtown, Connecticut

[for the parents]

Precious one, my heart’s delight,
I helped you choose your clothes,
Fed you, packed your lunch, zipped your coat,
And sent you on your way.

How far from me your way would take you
I couldn’t know.

Dear heart, sweet face, soft hair, wide eyes,
Never in my arms again.
Last night the hours crawled. How can I
Endure the years to come?

Bright laugh, young voice
Gone quiet now,
And all that’s left, a stillness bearing down
Like Atlas’s sky.  

[for the rest of us]

Not enough, the grief I feel.
Insufficient are my tears.
My sympathy is impotent,
Here where I sit, secure and safe,
Relieved that theirs was not my lot
While I muddle through my day’s work.
I am horrified for them,
But my feelings are inadequate.

These are my offerings:
Prayer that God be found at hand.
Gifts to causes that do good.
Support for justice, and for peace.
Pouring my heart in the words I write
So hope and dreams remain.
Above all, patience with my own,
So my actions teach and testify
Anger is best met in loving ways. 

© 2012, Julie Berry