Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Wolves of St. Peter’s by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk

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“It didn’t help that he could hear what sounded like wolves in the distance, yipping and howling that seemed to come from the hills beyond the Trastevere. Could they even be inside the walls? He had never known a wolf to carry anything off other than a sheep, but he was sure the local wolves, like everything here, would be bigger and meaner. He imagined them with ribs protruding under matted coats, blood and saliva dripping from gleaming white fangs as they slunk along in the rain. It was, as Raphael had said, a cursed city.”

Italian history has always fascinated me, Italian Renaissance history even more so. Throw in a few key artistic characters of the time (that would eventually become infamous for their creative genius) and I’m hooked. The Wolves of St. Peter’s was not a book that was on my radar before I read it, but after finishing it I have to say it was a great read with a mystery twist that keeps you hanging on right to the very end.

Francesco Angeli has been outcast from his beloved Florence. A passionate affair with the Duke’s wife had sent him fleeing for his very life, a social pariah, forced to do penance by becoming the servant of the ill-tempered and disgruntled Michelangelo. It is an arrangement forged by his father to provide a living for his son while in Rome but mainly enacted to punish Francesco’s foolishness. While Rome in 1508 offers numerous corporal diversions, including the intellectual company and finesse of a competing artist named Raphael and the subsequent visits to the elegant Imperia brothel, Fransceco still yearns for the comforts and prestige of his home and the woman he unwisely loved. Life becomes even grimmer as the city begins to flood, starving wolves roam the city walls and one morning Francesco witnesses a stunning, blond-haired woman being pulled from the Tiber River, a woman he knows. His search for the truth behind the beauty’s murder will plunge him into the midst of a scheme of treachery and deviousness performed by some of the most colorful characters in Rome.

There is so much richness in this novel, the characters and settings are an endless feast. I have yet to walk the streets of Rome (someday, someday) but I have strolled down the corridors of Venice and it was like being back there again. Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk have an artful skill which draws you back into 16th century Rome, with its hobbled homes and thriving docks. However, while many authors tend to focus on the glorious warmth of Rome, Buonaguro and Kirk reveal Rome in its darkness and most damp grandeur, reflecting the very nature of the story being told. Flooded, dreary and plagued by wild animals, the Rome in The Wolves of St. Peter’s is a city of mystery, one where people scheme and unleash intentions not suitable for the light of day.

Within this setting are characters that are rich and endowed with a wide range of attributes; the arrogance, yet wistful hope, of Calendula, the bat-man Dante’s perceptible insanity, the clever bravery of Susanna, the colorful pomp of the Turk. One of my favorite elements was the depictions of the artists Michelangelo and Raphael, two names that would become synonymous with the beauty of art and architecture in Italy. Only a few names would surpass theirs in artistic recognition. Michelangelo is the intolerable and cantankerous artist chosen to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a job he detests while still being consumed with its perfection. He is paranoid of other artists, specifically Raphael who is everything Michelangelo is not; polished, well-respected and active in the highest echelons of Roman society. They play perfectly against one another, highlighting the contrasting elements the other possesses. I’m always interested in how artists are portrayed, as most of them lived extraordinary lives themselves, and whether these two depictions are completely accurate was never a concern, mainly because they were just so enjoyable to read.

Apart from the book being wonderful all on its own I love to be able to support, and recognize, local authors. Buonaguro, from Toronto, and Kirk, from my hometown of Kingston, take the age-old tale of a man who cannot have the woman he loves and spin it anew with thrilling suspense and a full parade of imaginative characters. They take a place and historical period which is ripe with creative possibilities (in my mind at least) and write a story that is gripping, saturated with remarkable characters in a city that has a life of its own. It makes me wish, and search, for more books like this to feed my literary hunger for Italy, artists and secrecy.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk: The Sidewalk Artist (2005) and Ciao Bella (2009)

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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“Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.

But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.”

Veronica Roth’s Allegiant is, without a doubt, one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 for many teen and adult readers. It is also the conclusion to a series that has become exceedingly popular, birthing its own base of fans that will soon be treated to a movie rendition. Along with that comes a great deal of pressure, certainly for the author but for readers as well. Will the book conclude the series satisfactorily? How will the stories end for these much-beloved characters? The questions are endless and no matter what an author does, there will be readers who love it and others who don’t. After concluding Allegiant I feel that Roth ended the Divergent series with loyalty to her vision and its characters, as well as incorporating some ground-shaking surprises that kept the book exciting right to the very end.

Tris and Four, along with their former-Dauntless companions, are facing a new world. When a video reveals they are not alone in the world, they must decide if they will seek out unknown possibilities or stay in the only place they have ever known but which is dissolving into rebellion between the factionless and the Allegiant, those who wish to see the factions returned to their previous place of importance. When they do decide to leave they are welcomed into an organization that reveals that their city has been an experiment, an attempt to repair damaged genes and DNA. This ideal of damaged and pure genes will come to consume them and will eventually cause Four, always the sturdiest of the group, to question his self worth. When the survival of their former city becomes endangered Tris and Four, along with old and new alliances, will make a final stand against enemies inside and outside of the city, one that will only come to fruition through forgiveness and sacrifice.

I was one of those readers who was unsure how it would end, but I will say that after finishing Allegiant I believe Roth has done an admirable job of bringing such a popular series to its end. I had some issues with Insurgent (specifically that I had a hard time keeping track of the characters and what their purpose was in the story line, along with finding the story somewhat fractured) but none of those were present in Allegiant. All of the characters played crucial roles in the progression of the story. Four’s struggle was one of the more interesting evolutions to read. In Insurgent we watched Tris suffer from the aftermath of her actions, but the uncertainty Four experiences is of a completely different nature. Roth has turned the former dynamic on its head; Tris is the individual who is certain and unswayable, while this time around it is Four who questions his purpose. The tension between them is different than the previous novel, but it too stems from the changes in the environment around them.

One of the discussions I had with a friend was the change in narrative. Unlike the previous two books, parts of this story are told from Four’s point of view. At first it seems a little disjointed but by the end of the novel you can understand why Roth decided to take this route. It is also interesting to take into account that Roth published a short online novella about Four during the summer of 2013 and more will be coming in the near future. This might also explain why Roth made Four’s a voice a much more central aspect for this final installment.

Of the series, Divergent is still my favorite. I loved the factions, the way in which they structured society and placed characters in defined categories according to their strengths and values. I found the characters did the most developing in that book as well. However, I do admire how Roth ended her series, taking a route that I didn’t think she would and possibly risking upsetting a few readers in doing so. For that fact alone, I will say that Allegiant is a fitting finish to the Divergent series.

The Divergent series is often compared to or recommended to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games and while they are different, they do contain some of the same themes, emotions and challenges that have made both so popular with readers of all ages. Both are social commentaries in their own right and both declare that people, however willing or unwilling they may be, can make a difference. It’s a message worth relaying to teens and even adults. Allegiant concludes a thrilling series with a memorable ending and a lingering respect for the choices Roth has her characters make.

Devon – a1000booklife

Other books by Veronica Roth: Divergent (2011) and Insurgent (2013)

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