Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Origin of Miriam bat Isaac: Guest Post by June Trop


The Origin of Miriam bat Isaac

People often ask me how I came to create my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac. The short answer is a book fell on my toe.

I was taking a course on Concepts in Chemistry with no idea for a paper about a significant early concept. In desperation, I wandered through the library stacks, hoping an idea would strike me. And something did. The book that fell on my toe opened to a page about Maria Hebrea, a Jewish woman from Ancient Alexandria who became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. I was in shock! How is it that as a chemistry student, I’d never heard of such a famous woman?

The answer was that as an alchemist, very little would be known about her. In fact, all alchemists wrote under a pseudonym to shield themselves from persecution. Although the tradition among all the crafts and mystical cults was to guard the secrecy of their work, persecution was a real risk for alchemists, who could be accused of and summarily executed for conspiring to debase the currency.

And so, the bad news was that I’d have trouble finding information about her for my paper. But the good news was that with so little known, I was free to invent a life for her. So, I gave her a name, a twin brother intent on becoming a gladiator, a servant who had an ear for gossip, a worldly potbellied dwarf who knew every sleazy waterfront inn, and a handsome jeweler who would introduce her to the League of Alchemists and a lot more.

 So, while Miriam bat Isaac, sleuth extraordinaire, is fictive, her personage is based on the once-famous but little-known Maria Hebrea. If you’ve ever used a double boiler, then you’ve profited from one of her many practical inventions.



The Deadliest Sport by June Trop: A Review


BOOK TITLE: The Deadliest Sport: A Miriam bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria

AUTHOR: June Trop

ISBN/ASIN: 978-1626947559

GENRE: Mystery, Historical Fiction

NUMBER OF PAGES: 242

FORMAT: Digital

SERIES / STANDALONE: Miriam bat Isaac #3

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank iRead Book Tours for this review copy

SUMMARY:

Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath.

When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady and dangerous enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam's elderly charge, turns up missing; Amram becomes seriously ill; and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?

FIRST IMPRESSION:

The book's summary had just enough stuff to make me want to pick up the book. I initially began reading this without the idea that this was part of a series, but with the summary it showed me that it could be read as a standalone. The cover's theme fit with the summary and had the detailing required to match the summary. The single tagline was also impressive, making me want to read the book.
  
REVIEW:

It is a joy to read a book that has been written after a lot of research. It is even better if an author is able to transport you to a period in history you know very little about. The Deadliest Sport did that for me. The first things I noticed with the book were all the things that would make me want to read the other books in the series. It is fast paced, is actually well researched and is written seamlessly with a strong female lead. Nowhere in the narration did the book feel disjointed or jerky, even enough to remind me that this was the third book in a series, the first two of which I had not read.

Twins usually fall into one of two stereotypes - the close 'we complete each other's sentences' kind, or the 'we are polar opposites in our beliefs and behaviour' kind. Whether or not this is an actual twins' trait, fiction usually depicts one of these two kinds when the book is based on twins as leading characters. Miriam and Binyamin are of the latter kind, both with differing ideas of life, glory and work. Maybe it was specific to the time period with aggressiveness of gladiators, and the passive nature of alchemists, both of them stay true to their characters. I really loved the portrayal of Binyamin as the power hungry gladiator who has his sights set on Rome and Miriam as the woman who wants to keep the family and home intact, hoping that her brother would help. What happens when he does not, forms the rest of the story.

The book clearly has enough twists to hold its own, and the narrative is strong and keeps the reader engaged throughout without unnecessary stagnation. I loved that this book made me want to explore Miriam and her world more, mainly through other works of this author. The book also instilled in me a love for historical fiction with strong women leads, preferably based in the Roman Empire times. I consider this by itself the success of the book because it made me want to read more. The mystery element of the book took some time to grow on me, with the murders coming in at their pace, but nevertheless I could not really put the book down because the characters and the narration held me tight. 

WHAT I LIKED:
  • I was totally new to the time period this book was set on, but I could see that the book transported the reader to that era through writing.
  • Miriam as a character stood out, and had a strong coherent narration throughout. It is easy to see how she was based on an actual person.
  • Though it was a part of a series I had not read before, I had no difficulty relating with the characters. Special mention to the writing for this. The integration from past novels was seamless.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
  • For the intriguing premise, the actual execution fell a little below the bar, with no real adrenaline surges in the narration, even with enough moments to create them.
  • Though it was really suited to the time period, the aggressive men / passive women concept could have been given a little respite. This surely would have made the book much more enjoyable than it already was.
  • The overall narration is good, but the book did fall flat in some places with long winding words that crammed information without action.
VERDICT:

The book made me want to read more from this author, and also others from this time period. It was successful that way.

RATING: 4/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, "The Steam Shavel [sic]," when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.

"I don't remember how I spent my share," June says. "You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer."

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students' imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.

Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.

June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback

PRICE $12.99 for Paperback.

BOOK LINKS: Amazon



Friday, May 11, 2018

All The Way to Italy by Flavia Brunetti: A Review

BOOK TITLE: All the Way to Italy: A modern tale of homecoming through generations past

AUTHOR: Flavia Brunetti

ISBN/ASIN: ENTER ISBN

GENRE: Women's Fiction / YA Fiction

NUMBER OF PAGES: 222

FORMAT:Digital / Mobi

SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone

HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: I thank iRead Book Tours for this review copy.

SUMMARY:

Until her dad died, Little considered herself a Californian. Now, thanks to half a letter, a symbol she can’t quite remember, and writer’s block, she finds herself back in Italy, the country of her birth. In a headlong rush to return to her beloved San Francisco, Little will journey throughout Italy, hoping to find the answers she needs to move on with her life so she need never look back. She’ll enlist the help of the woman who raised her, Sira, her father’s sister; but Sira has secrets she’s kept for decades, and Little underestimates the power of the country she fled years before.

In this powerful story of mixed cultures in a world trying to globalize, one girl’s struggle to leave her home behind will lead her back to the women in her family and the memories each of them has safeguarded through the generations. From war-torn Italy to the belpaese of today, All the Way to Italy is a tale for those in search of a balance between wanderlust and the necessity to come home, a reminder that although we may be fragments, we are never a lost cause.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

With the cover, and the blurb, the book had chosen to portray feelings everyone will relate with, and boy, has it been done well! All The Way to Italy, with its blue toned cover, random objects (that have been associated with romance and an old timey wanderlust since forever) arranged with cute animations, managed to pique my curiosity and interest. With its carefully chosen words, the blurb made picking up the book a no-brainer. From the first two elements, the book promised to be a piece of fiction talking about women and their secrets and travels - an interesting premise by itself, without bringing the romance into the picture. But with all those elements present, the book promised to be an unforgettable ride. REVIEW:

Migration has always done humans a mixture of good and bad, making the heart heavy with the familiarity left behind, while stimulating the brain with the opportunities that lay ahead. But with newer generations, the roots are tucked in deeper, making them a little easier to forget, and making it also easier to adapt to the new culture that feels more familiar and home-like than the original home at the root ever was. But some life changing events warrant tough decisions, and sometimes the answers to life's most puzzling questions may lie with what may be considered one's forgotten roots. Little is facing such a situation, and in her case, it becomes a series of life changers that involve secrets, revelations, emotional upheavals and the story of strong people who had shaped her directly and indirectly in many ways over the course of her life.

Revisiting Italy after her father's death, Little feels out of place, torn between the American culture she has gotten comfortable with, and the Roman roots she has in her blood. When a child is taken to an entirely new country and culture in the formative years, it takes a lot of convincing to feel a sense of belonging to the home country, while constantly being the alien in the country they had chosen to make their lives in. Little faces and expresses this dilemma very well, including the familiar but fake sense of comfort in the American life, but also the impossibly alluring life in Italy that is everything she must have had. The wounds in the present have causes in the past, sometimes going years backwards, and unless these causes are found and removed, the wounds may never heal. Soon into her life in Italy, Little realises that her life was not devoid of secrets, and her family holds a few shattering secrets that, when unearthed, would both test her resolve and beliefs and make her find strength inside herself.

The book drew me in from page one. Though I took my breaks in between to reflect on the words that had made an impact on me (and there were quite a few wonderful quotes that I would remember for some time to come), I could feel connected with the book throughout the whole time, even when I was not reading it. The writing style is descriptive and verbose and it draws the reader in and makes them hungry for more description about the place, and the culture that it is based out of. Almost all books, in some ways, make us remember a part of them in vivid detail, but there are a few which bring before us the place and the characters, alive and active. The novel was full of characters who had their own places in the story, not just as placemarkers. But with each woman the reader encountered, a layer was revealed in the intricate plot that leans heavily on human emotions, and descriptions.

The story has to hook the reader from the first, but if the beauty of the prose does not appeal to the reader, the story cannot hold the interest all the way through. The book could be termed a long one, leaning on descriptions more than the story, and the writing at places feels like it was keeping up with the descriptive nature, instead of adding much of value. If read in a flow, and with the reader engrossed in the book, this is a treat for the words it uses. WHAT I LIKED:
  • The 'Top Ten Points You’ll Hear Most Often If You Grew Up With Sira (Or, How to Survive Life)' part got me hooked to the book, and made me wish I could print it out and stick it somewhere I can read every day.
  • Special Mention to the Fragments from the Belpaese (the article section. I read it thrice, will read it many more times because it struck a chord.
  • The emotions, the writing and the way the story was taken forward, so that the pages were turned but the act never conscious, are all huge pluses for the book.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
  • As the name suggests, this book is also a guide to many things Italian. If you have a particular dislike for this kind of books, this is not for you.
  • The overall pace of the story can be termed as slow and reflective. For some readers this might seem like a dragging book.
  • The writing is consistent, but leaning towards a particular style, and if it does not draw you into it in the first few pages, the whole book will be similar.
VERDICT:

Overall a book I thoroughly enjoyed, and would read in parts again.

RATING: 4/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born just outside of Rome, Flavia Brunetti grew up bouncing back and forth between Italy and California, eventually moving back to the Eternal City and confirming her lifelong commitment to real gelato. Flavia holds a Master of Arts degree in Government and Politics from St. John’s University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from John Cabot University. Today she travels the world working for an international humanitarian organization and spends her free time writing and wandering around her beloved Roma in constant search of bookstores and the perfect espresso. You can find her city blog on Rome at whichwaytorome.com and her portfolio of published writing at flaviinrome.com.