Marrying Mozart-Stephanie Cowell

I knew I was going to love this book when it began with acknowledgments, one of which was to Cowell’s stepmother, who introduced her to the Weber family letters.

An aged Sophie Weber tells the story of her childhood, spent with her three sisters, Josefa, Aloysia, and Constanze, their moody mother and hard-working musician father.  As interesting as her family is, however, it is an outsider, Mozart, who draws a young Englishman to interview Sophie and provide the excuse for the story.

Salzburg, Munich, and Vienna provide rich backdrops to Sophie’s story.  Josefa and Aloysia have fabulous voices and help supplement the family’s meager income through singing for private parties.  Their mother keeps a secret book in which she plots their marriages to members of the nobility, who will rescue the family from their straightened financial circumstances.  Every Thursday the family apartment is enlivened by leading musicians who play, dance, and converse–and eat cake.

Enter Mozart, who falls in love with Aloysia, then is planned for Sophie, is secretly longed for by Josefa, and eventually falls in love with and marries Constanze.

Gender, music, and social class themes all swirl around the personalities of this story.  Cowell manages to make Mozart a secondary character.  It’s the Weber women who dominate this tale and who will, I suspect, prove unforgettable.

Part of the appeal of this book may have been reading it in May on my lawn swing, but it’s Cowell’s characters that are so remarkable.  I have another of Cowell’s books in my stacks and will grab some others on my next library trip.

Finished 5/11/2012

The Last Bridge–Teri Coyne

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book based on the blurb inside the dust jacket.  The cover promised “a rewarding read you’ll never forget.”  Blurbs like these are like movie reviews on trailers.  They’re culled to show how awesome the product is.

But this one was dead on.

Cat is a bitter drunk who returns home when her mother commits suicide.  Her father is in a coma in the hospital, but, among the three of them, Cat is the worst off.

Cat escapes in a bottle, but the past leaks out and, as she faces her tragic childhood, Coyne draws you into the horrifying world of an abused child who is victimized not only by her abuser but by all of those who stood by and let it happen.

Just a teaser: Cat identifies her mother’s body by the missing tip of a finger, which her father cut off with a saw in the barn while the children watched following their mother’s attempt to escape him.  And it gets worse before it gets better.

The biggest disappointment was finding out Coyne has not written a second novel.

Finished 5/6/12

The Good Men–Charmagne Craig

I have not read historical fiction in years, even though it used to be my favorite genre.  I nearly passed this book up on the library shelf, but I’d actually read a positive review of it when it came out and it caught my eye as it’s from the medieval period and looks at the Cathars, a topic in which I’ve long had an interest.

Craig looks at the Good Men’s impact on the village of Montaillou through the lifespan of one man, the rector of Montaillou, and three generations of women he loved.  The novel hits familiar late medieval complaints–a corrupt Church at the upper levels, a corrupt Dominican order, corrupt clergy at the local level, and echoes the truths of small rural towns everywhere.  Its story about women and the role their bodies play in their lives, whether it’s their hair, their squinty eye, or their pearly white skin, is sad in an era where women’s bodies are all too often still the defining factor in their lives.  A nice surprise is the fairly sympathetic portrayal of the popes, who most often, in this tale, act to moderate the fervor and methods of the Inquisition.

Craig was inspired by the Inquisition records of one woman, Grazida, and she builds the whole story around her.  The characters are engaging, the story is complex enough to hold one’s attention for its nearly 400 pages.  The landscape of Montaillou becomes a haunting character in the story.

One odd turn of plot is when Grazida begins composing poetry in her mind, which goes nowhere in terms of the plot or Grazida’s character and is frustrating given the lack of any historical information to support it.  It seems, instead, the wishful thinking of a student of history and literature and gender studies.

Overall, however, the book was a successful return to historical fiction for me and affirms my choice to work serendipitously systematicallythrough the library shelves.

Finished 5/3/12