Saturday, January 31, 2015

Summer King, Winter Fool

By Lisa Goldstein

Valemar is a young courtier in the court of King Gobro of Etrara. Valemar doesn't have much on his mind besides poetry, courtliness and his standing in the court. His king, Gobro, is not well liked or respected, dismissed as a fat fool.
The people of Valemar's world worship a trinity of gods, Sbona, the mother and her two sons, Callabrion and Scathiel. When Callabrion descends to the world, winter begins and Scathiel ascends to heaven. Then when Callabrion ascends to heaven, Scathiel descends and summer begins. This is how they mark the changing of the seasons. Only this winter, something has gone wrong. The festival of Callabrion's ascension has been celebrated at the proper time but the days are not growing longer, they are growing shorter and coldness rules the land. The people grow uneasy and worried, fearful of famine.
Narrion, like Valemar, is a young courtier in Gobro's court. But unlike Valemar, Narrion's mind is full of plots and intrigues. Acting on Gobro's orders, Narrion tricks Valemar into leaving Etrara and going to Tobol An. Valemar believes his life is in danger and he agrees to hide in Tobol An. There he meets the woman in charge of the huge library of Tobol An, Taja. Taja thinks she is just a peasant woman who runs the library, but she is actually a powerful poet mage, she just doesn't know it yet.
Valemar, like Taja, thinks he is just a courtier. But he is really the true heir to the throne of Etrara, which is why Gobro wanted him out of Etrara. Whether this was to protect him or because he was a threat to Gobro's throne, whatever Gobro's intentions were doesn't matter because Gobro is soon dead, killed by his sister Callia, who takes the throne. Gobro was a spendthrift and Callia's rule is bankrupt. So she declares war on neighboring Shai, hoping to gain its riches for her own.
Valemar, back from Tobol An, takes up arms in the war against the Shai and ends up captured. The war goes badly for Etrara and it is overrun by the Shai, who rule with an iron fist. Rumors begin to circulate throughout Etrara of a rightful heir to the throne who will lead them to freedom. The Shai, eager to susspress these hopes, begin to search for Valemar. And Valemar, escaping from captivity, thinks that maybe it is time for him to assume his proper role as king.
Meanwhile, Callabrion has still not ascended and the days continue to shorten and darkness and cold rule the land. Soon it won't matter who is king, if summer never comes.

This was an OK story. It never really captured my interest and I found the idea of the three gods who are real beings who walk among the people not very appealing or believable. Actually, the whole story was kind of like that, with details that just didn't feel true or real. It was more like a story of a dream than a story of a real place, with real people, events and history.

For another review, see

Friday, January 23, 2015

Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger

By Eric Hebborn

Whatever a person may say about Eric Hebborn, it must be admitted that the man was talented. In other respects, though, Hebborn was lacking. Lacking in morals, lacking in the ability to admit his wrong-doings and lacking in repentance. Never does he admit in this book that he was wrong to do what he did. He even refuses to admit what he did was criminal, saying in response to that accusation, "Not a bit of it. There is nothing criminal in making a drawing in any style one wishes, nor is there anything criminal about asking an expert what he thinks of it."
Hebborn was born of humble origins and spent much of his youth in foster care. But his basic artist ability gained him access to respected institutes of art. He attended the Royal Academy of Arts in Great Britain and won the Rome Prize, studying for two years in Italy. But he learned his less legitimate skills while working for an art restorer in Britain. Art works that have been damaged can be skillfully restored by an expert to such a degree that the restoration is nearly undetectable. (Take note, you dolts who did such a poor job of reattaching King Tut's beard.) It was while working there that Hebborn was introduced to the idea of, to quote Wikipedia, '"restoring" paintings on entirely blank canvases.'
 While he criticizes his earliest efforts at producing fakes, he is still quite gleeful that his even his early fakes fooled the experts. After he moved permanently to Italy, he continued to produce works of art done solely to fool the experts into labeling these works as genuine old masters. Eventually, though, one expert noticed that two drawings done by two "different" artists were on similar paper and Hebborn was exposed and all the works that had been handled by him and his Italian gallery came to be suspect.
But that didn't stop his production of "old masters." Although he no longer had front door access to art dealers, he had plenty of back door access, as dealers continued to contact him, looking for "old masters" they could pass off as the real deal. And this where Hebborn places the onus, on the dealers who label iffy works as genuine.

You don't have to be an art maven to enjoy this memoir. I know practically nothing about art and yet I found this story to be quite well worth the read. Most of the artists that Hebborn faked I have never heard of, people like Gianbattista Tiepolo, Giandomenico Tiepolo, Palma il Giovane, Guercino, Vanvitelli, and Castiglione. But reading about the hidden world of art forgery, art dealers and art experts was interesting and informative. I guess it really is all a matter of

Hebborn is deceased now. At the end of the book he admits he is in poor health due to over-indulgence. But he didn't die because of his health, he was murdered, bashed in the head in the street in 1996. He was 61 years old. As far as I was able to find out, his murder is unsolved.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


By Edith Pinero Green

Dearborn V. Pinch likes solving mysteries, even though he is rather elderly. His son and the police would rather he didn't involve himself but when he comes across a body in the bushes of course he has to look into it.
Pinch has had previous dealings with mysteries, so when a friend of the dead person asks him to look into the death, Pinch is not surprised. And when the man offers to pay him, Pinch is quite pleased. He could really use the money to help out a lady friend. (Pinch also really likes the ladies and is a sucker for a sad story.)
So off he goes from NYC to a resort in Florida, trailed by his basketball-star son, Ben, and a NYC policeman. Ben is worried about his father getting into trouble and the policeman is conducting the investigation into the murder.
The dead man, identified by the man who hired Pinch as Louis Martin, used to live near the resort and was involved with the wife of the man who owns and runs the resort, Leo Beggs. Leo is married to Maggie, a marriage of convenience. Leo wanted a beautiful young wife and Maggie wanted to be married to a rich man. They do not love one another and their marriage has suffered for it. Neither of them are happy with it any more.
Louis Martin was not Maggie's first lover or even her last lover, though she claims he was her true love. Leo Beggs has tolerated Maggie's string of boy friends but now Maggie claims to want her freedom so she can be with Martin. But Martin is dead and it appears that Beggs was the one who killed him. Beggs was in NYC at the time and owns the same type of gun as the one used to shoot the dead man. Informed that he will soon be arrested for Martin's murder, Beggs commits suicide.
Pinch was sure Beggs was the killer, but circumstances surrounding Beggs' own death seem to point to a plot to cast blame on Beggs and make his subsequent death appear a suicide when it was actually murder. But who is the killer? Maggie is, of course, prime suspect as she will inherit the majority of Beggs' fortune. But she has a solid alibi. So she must have had an accomplice. But who? The list of possible candidates grows and grows and Pinch gets deeper into his investigation, getting a few bumps and bruises in the process and ending up kidnapped by a loco Cuban who wants to free Cuba from the communists.

I enjoyed reading about Pinch and his unlikely investigations. He uses a fake name while in Florida but constantly forgets that and makes many obvious gaffes, which was amusing. And the mystery was intriguing with the killer being someone who was central to the story but whose identity is not revealed until the end (unless the reader remembers the clue given at the beginning of the story). This was an enjoyable read, though pretty typical of the mystery genre.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Duke of Deception

By Geoffrey Wolff

Wolff's memoir of his experiences with his father, an unrepentant conman. And not only a conman, but a leech and an alcoholic and drug abuser. Altogether, Duke (his nickname) was a bad man, a man who even stole from his own son by charging items purchased at stores to his son's account without the son's permission or knowledge.
It's not like Duke didn't know better. His father was a respectable and well-off doctor and Duke was educated in private schools. But perhaps that is where the fault lies, as it appears that Duke was given pretty much anything he asked for as a child. As a result, he grew up thinking he was entitled, whether he deserved it or not. Indeed, Duke deserved the things he wanted because he wanted them. At least that's how it seemed to me. Probably it is not that simple. But I also think he got a kind of childish delight out of cheating, of getting something for nothing.
Yet Wolff has fond memories of his father, despite the occasional outburst of abuse during one of Duke's alcoholic binges. Indeed, it seemed to me, that Wolff had more resentment towards his mother, who cheated on his father, something a little boy found hard to understand. The Wolffs had a troubled marriage, what with Duke's unfaithfulness and unreliability and the mother's admitted lack of love for her husband. Raised in such a climate, it is not surprising that Wolff started down the same road as his father, lying, cheating, drinking, spending money he didn't have and skipping classes. But somehow, Wolff saw the road he was headed down and took another path.

Duke's father is a really creepy guy, repulsive and reprehensible. Wolff has some kind words to say about the man, but from reading this story, it is hard to understand why. But, even though I came away from it despising everything about the man, I still liked reading about him. Gives one a new appreciation for your own parents.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is only eleven, but she has a passion for chemistry and, especially, an interest in poisons.
Flavia has two older sisters with whom she is at war. To get revenge for being locked in a closet, she collects some poison ivy and contaminates her oldest sister's lipstick with it. Which tells you a lot about Flavia, she is a force to be reckoned with. Cross her at your peril.
Flavia's mother died when she was just a baby and her father is cold and distant, a qualities that Flavia believes are inherent in her family. Although he seems disconnected from his family, the father is very attached to his stamp collection, an interest that dates back to his school days.
Flavia arises early one morning and finds a man dying in the cucumber patch. As he dies, he says just one word to Flavia, "vale," which is Latin for "farewell." Flavia realizes the dead man is the same man who visited her father that evening and made threats that Flavia overheard. Soon the police arrive and, before much longer, Flavia's father is arrested and charged with murder. Now it is up to Flavia to discover the truth behind the man's death, and, hopefully, clear her father of murder.

I sort of thought this would be a humorous story, but it was not, unless you find the antics of precocious and bratty children amusing. I do not. Flavia is out of control and her two older sisters and father are so self-involved that Flavia is virtually raising herself.
I also didn't find the mystery that interesting and the murderer was not a surprise. I didn't dislike the book, but I will not be reading the others in the series. It was just a fair read.