Q&A With Authors Gina Buonaguro & Janice Kirk

Gina Buonaguro and Janice KirkToday, I’m talking to Canadian writers Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk, co-authors of The Wolves of St. Peter’s, The Sidewalk Artist and Ciao Bella. I loved The Sidewalk Artist when I read it in 2011 and when HarperCollins Canada asked me if I wanted to review their latest book, The Wolves of St. Peter’s, a historical thriller set in Renaissance Rome, I couldn’t say no. I loved that book too so I jumped at the opportunity to interview Gina and Janice for my blog.

Hello ladies!  I understand that you originally met in a French class and that not long after you decided to form your own author’s group. This year you’re celebrating 10 years of writing together, congratulations!

Thank you! We can’t believe ourselves that we’ve been writing together for more than a decade. 

  1. What is the hardest thing for you to deal with when it comes to co-authoring a book?

At this point in our writing career, it would be finding enough time to do all the research and writing we want to do! The minutiae of life can really get in the way.

  1. Where are some of the places you’ve traveled to for research?

We’ve both been to many of the locations of our books independently (Paris, Rome, Florence, Euganean Hills – although neither of us has ever been to Urbino, a key setting in The Sidewalk Artist). For the first time ever, we took a research trip together to Venice in January 2013. Gina spent a week there, while Janice stayed for a month. We did a lot of thinking about our next novel, a sequel to The Wolves of St. Peter’s. It was an excellent chance to soak up atmosphere while working on the plotting and characters.

  1. Is Italy your favourite country and if so, why? 

Yes, it certainly seems to be our favourite country to write about! Gina has an Italian background, which perhaps partly explains her attraction. Janice visited Venice for the first time about 15 years ago and fell in love with the place – she has gone back every other year since then, renting an apartment for a month at a time. Plus, the scenery in Italy is spectacular, the food delicious, and who wouldn’t love a place where you can start drinking wine before lunch?

  1. Was there anything in specific that attracted you to writing about Renaissance Italy for The Wolves of St. Peter’s? 

We wrote about Renaissance Italy in our first novel, The Sidewalk Artist, though it was basically by accident since the artist Raphael ended up being a major character. After moving to the World War II-era for our second novel, Ciao Bella, we realized we much preferred writing about a time and place further back in time. We strive to be as historically accurate as humanly possible, but it is nice to write about a period where no one is still alive to correct you. Plus, we already had a working knowledge about Renaissance Italy and wanted to dig into it deeper. There’s so much wonderful fodder for a great mystery.

  1. What was the most disturbing and the most interesting fact that you uncovered while doing research for The Wolves of St. Peter’s?

There certainly were a lot of disturbing facts we unearthed during the The Wolves of St. Peter's by Gina Buonaguro & Janice Kirkresearch for The Wolves of St. Peter’s. The Renaissance is often quite romanticized, but essentially you would not want to live any other time and place than the developed world in the 21st century. One especially interesting fact came out of Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The outhouses of the Renaissance rang with the sounds of dying newborns. That was because women had no access to abortion and had to resort to infanticide for unwanted babies. According to Pinker, the modern-day rates of abortion parallel the infanticide rates of the past. Whatever your views on abortion, that’s certainly something to think about.

  1. Who is your most endearing character in the book aside from Francesco?

That’s like asking which of your children you love the most! Anyway, we really enjoy The Turk, despite how despicable he is. Based on Silvio Berlusconi, he’s the guy we love to hate. We do love Dante the bat man as well as have a very soft spot for Susanna, who is just trying to make her way in this world so unfriendly to women.

  1. Can you tell us more about the next book you’re writing?

Our next novel is a sequel to The Wolves of St. Peter’s, the second of an envisioned trilogy, and it will take place in Venice, at a time when dowry inflation was skyrocketing. Patrician families were only able to marry off one of their daughters, and the only other respectable position for a woman was a convent. So the nunneries of the city were filled with women who didn’t want to be there, which certainly makes for fascinating social dynamics.

  1. Venice is one of the cities on my bucket list and I have a Pinterest board dedicated to it. What specific detail about Venice inspired you the most?

Boy this is a hard one – it’s a completely inspirational city. We touched on Venice in our first two novels but obviously not The Wolves of St. Peter’s, which is set exclusively in Rome. The sequel will take place during a Venetian winter, which is a very mysterious time in the life of the city. When we went there last January, fog often hung just above the canals, and several times we heard the aqua alta sirens, which warn about potential flooding. The streets were damp, and the churches were often as cold as a tomb. And yet in the shops and restaurants and cafes, there was much warmth and light. It was a wonderful contrast.

  1. What will you be speaking about at Kingston WritersFest on September 27th?

We’re really looking forward to this event. We’ll be talking about our coauthoring process as well as our research into Renaissance Rome about art, the Vatican, Michelangelo, Raphael, and the role of women.

10. Are the canines in your Facebook banner photo real wolves?

The dogs in our author photo are Tamaskans, a type of husky from Scandinavia. Our photographer friend owns them, and we thought they would be a perfect addition, given the title of the book. It was quite the photo session at Fort Henry getting them to cooperate!

Thank you very much Gina and Janice for this wonderfully interesting and informative interview. I look forward to meeting you in person at your book signing event at Chapters Kingston on Saturday, September 28, 2013 (between 12:00 – 3:00 pm)!

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

The Wolves of St. Peter's by Gina Buonaguro & Janice KirkBook Review
Title: The Wolves of St. Peter’s
Authors:  Gina Buonaguro & Janice Kirk
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: April 23, 2013
Pages: 288
ISBN-10: 1443417459
ISBN-13: 978-1443417457
Stars:  4.0

In The Wolves of St. Peter’s by Toronto’s Gina Buonaguro and Kingston, Ontario’s Janice Kirk, young Francesco Angeli is the unenthusiastic houseboy/assistant of the irritable, arrogant and eccentric Michelangelo (he keeps a three-legged chicken as a pet!) who is busy at work on his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although educated and a lawyer by trade, Francesco’s libido has got him into trouble. After becoming involved with Juliet, the wife of his employer, Guido del Mare, his father sends him from Florence to Rome to work for Michelangelo.

Francesco often shirks his responsibilities to either bed the married gypsy girl Susanna who lives next door, or to hang out with his friend Raphael and the artists who gather socially at the home of Imperia, a madam who operates a brothel near the Vatican while Pope Julius II ignores its activities.

One rainy morning, Francesco witnesses a golden-haired woman’s body being pulled from the Tiber River and is shocked when he recognizes her as being one of Imperia’s prostitutes, Calendula, (who reminds him of his illicit lover and who had been flaunting an expensive ring given to her by an unknown paramour) or so he believes. And if her death wasn’t enough of a mystery, Francesco is even more horrified when other people he knows turn up dead as well.

In the meantime, the rising waters of the Tiber are flooding city streets and turning the citizens of Rome – who are terrified by the possibility of a plague – into refugees and the Coliseum into an emergency shelter.  Hungry wolves descend from the hills at night to “stalk the city like ghosts,” but these wolves are really just a metaphor for the true wolves of the city that are far more dangerous than their canine counterparts. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but are inside ravenous wolves.”

As Francesco follows the deepening mystery from the backstreets to the pope’s inner sanctum, he begins to realize that danger and corruption may lurk behind the most beautiful of facades.

The cast of lively characters include not only Michelangelo and Raphael, but also Marcus, Calendula’s artist lover; a rich shipping merchant and admirer of Calendula’s referred to as The Turk; Guido del Mare’s brutish bodyguard Pollo Grosso “Big Chicken”; the Pope’s suspicious right hand men Cardinal Asino and Paride di Grassi; and Dante, a fine wood-carver who with every full moon undergoes a transformation and believes himself to have changed form, this time into a bat.

I loved The Sidewalk Artist by Buonaguro & Kirk and read it in 2011 which is the reason I said yes to reviewing The Wolves of St. Peter’s.  I understand that this book is the first of a planned trilogy.  The authors are currently working on the second installment which is set in Venice during the carnival season of 1510 and also stars Francesco Angeli as its protagonist.  I also discovered in an article written about the book and its authors by Wayne Grady of the Kingston Whig-Standard on April 18, 2013 that Gina and Janice discovered, “From their reading of the contemporary historian Benevenuto Cillini, they gained a sense of the casual nature of violence in Renaissance Italy — “Everyone carried a dagger, and thought nothing of using it.” As a result, 16th century Rome emerges as a dark, dangerous and curiously ironic place. Its plot was informed by their discovery that painters of the images of the Madonna and Child found in nearly every Roman household often used prostitutes for their models.”

What strikes me most about Buonaguro & Kirk’s writing is the detail with which they sculpt their superior prose. The amount of research they undertake for their stories is obvious, the settings are captivating and their characters are quirky, interesting and complex at the same time while remaining totally accessible to the reader. They allow the characters to describe their point of view and I loved the characters of Michelangelo and Raphael who were so different but who would each go on to become two of the most famous, celebrated artists in history. Francesco’s scenes with Michelangelo and the three-legged chicken were particularly entertaining.

The romantic and somewhat gothic setting of corrupt, Renaissance Rome in 1508 sets the tone for this captivating murder mystery and the writers’ inclusion of humour at key points in the story perfectly balances the dour atmosphere in which the main characters find themselves. I must say that I didn’t solve the mystery myself until it was revealed near the end of the book. This is an immensely satisfying read for fans of historical fiction or Renaissance Italy and the artists of its time that would translate delightfully into a stunning feature film.

Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk, who now have a new Facebook page, will be signing copies of The Wolves of St. Peter’s at Chapters Kingston on Saturday, September 28th from 12-3 pm while they’re in town for Kingston WritersFest so don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to meet two of Canada’s finest writers.

Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Who I Am by Pete TownshendBook Review
Title: Who I Am
Author:  Pete Townshend
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: October 9, 2012
Pages: 538
ISBN-10: 1443418919
ISBN-13: 978-1443418911
Stars:  3.5

I’ve never been a big fan of Pete Townshend or The Who although I do appreciate most of their hits and of course, Tommy, but I thought that Townshend’s memoirs would be pretty interesting.  However, although he’s a brilliant artist, Townshend is not an easy man to like.  He comes off as a manic-depressive, self-absorbed, adulterous prick most of the time, but once in a while he can actually make you feel sorry for him as he is brutally honest, even about his own short-comings.  This is a man who loves the sound of his own voice.

Surprisingly, Who I Am is a sober, humourless, 500+ page confessional of Pete Townshend’s experiences.  It focuses more on his songwriting than guitar playing, even though he’s been given the honour of being No. 10 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  Not one of the greatest vocalists or collaborators of all time, Townshend is an emotionally stultified loner.  He couldn’t manage co-writing because it’s out of his emotional range.  At the height of The Who’s popularity in 1970, he couldn’t really enjoy himself, and instead “felt ashamed about being an adulterer, and oddly guilty about my professional success.”  So let’s find out why.

Born May 19, 1945 in West London, neither Pete’s maternal grandparents nor his parents were positive role models.  His father Clifford played in a swing band and his mum performed with him as a vocalist for a while.  Pete’s early years were happily spent in the company of his best buddy “Jimpy” but in 1951, Pete was sent to live with his mentally disturbed maternal grandmother, Denny, for a year.  Denny, who left her husband of 11 years for a wealthy man who kept her as his mistress, possessed “Victorian domestic notions”, and was often cruel and neglected Pete when she busy with her own affairs.  Pete suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his grandmother, while his mother Betty was off having an affair on his father.  She had 5 self-induced abortions before ending her affair and reuniting with Cliff and also battled the bottle for many years.  Pete says this was the darkest part of his life and it will likely take him the rest of it to try to find closure on the abuse he suffered as a six and seven year old boy.  For that, I truly feel sorry for him.

Pete’s parents did eventually reunite which resulted in the birth of Pete’s brothers Paul and Simon who were born over 15 years after him and whom he barely mentions.

He does go over all the facts about The Who’s career but we don’t end up knowing much about his true relationship with the guys, other than he revealed that John and Keith were very close and as long as he let Roger have his way when it came to The Who, everything was fine.

Pete started his musical career by playing harmonica and then took up banjo and guitar.  He went to school with John Entwistle and his first band with him was called The Confederates.  Roger Daltrey also knew John and asked him and Pete to join his party band, The Detours, in early 1962.  The Detours supported The Rolling Stones a couple of times in late ’63/early ’64, as well as The Kinks.  When Entwistle found out that another band had the same name, the band became The Who on Valentine’s Day 1964.  Pete was only 18 when the original line-up was formed: Townshend, Daltry, Entwistle and Doug Sandom on drums, soon to be replaced by Keith Moon.

After four years of attending Ealing Art College and playing lots of shows at the same time, an exhausted Townshend dropped out of school.

For those of you who don’t know, The Who’s style and image was influenced by Pete’s art school studies and The Mod movement, which was “based on trendsetting fashion statements and dance moves.”  Pete, who was friends with Jim Marshall, the inventor of the Marshall stack, was possibly the first person to create the Marshall wall of sound (feedback) which became The Who’s trademark.  They also claim to be “the first stage act in the world to employ high-powered lasers for dramatic lighting effects.”

Tommy (1969) was The Who’s masterpiece although Live at Leeds and Quadrophenia were almost as impressive.  A rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind pinball wizard who exists in a world of vibrations, has been reincarnated as a movie and various successful stage productions over the years, and along with the band’s constant touring has kept Townshend in luxurious houses, studios and boats.

Looking for a spiritual connection, Pete became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba whom he followed for many years, but it isn’t apparent that he actually learned anything meaningful from him.

Townshend recounts The Who’s illustrious sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll history but says little about the deaths of Moon and Entwistle except to state that they occurred.  He had no way of processing or dealing with his grief and comes off as a man with a significant personality disorder.  By the time The Who Sell Out was released, Pete was already going deaf, was in a perpetually foul mood, and Roger was unhappy on stage too.  Pete felt that as a performance artist he was undervalued and that his performances were being misread: “I wanted to be serious about what I did, and wanted my work – including smashing guitars in concert – to be regarded as part of a passionate commitment to an evolving stagecraft.”

Though fairly pretentious about his craft, Pete was shy and awkward with girls and didn’t have sex until he was in college.  He addresses his bisexuality and states that he “suffered from a deep sexual shame” over his dealings with Denny, although he’d “managed to push the details out of memory’s reach.”  Townshend coped with his shame over the years with drugs and alcohol, although booze proved to be the heavier monkey on his back.

He married his long time girlfriend Karen Astley on May 20, 1968 and together they had three children, Emma, Minta and many years later, after several separations, Joseph.  While Pete mentions his children, he doesn’t devote any time to describing his relationship with his daughters and it was obvious that Karen did most of the parenting as he was a workaholic who could rarely relax.  “I had always wanted to be there for my wife and children in a way that my parents were not always there for me.  But the childish, devlish, selfish-sod-bastard artist deep inside me didn’t give a toss for fatherhood – he needed freedom.”  Pete and Karen finally ended their 25+ year marriage in the mid-nineties (they didn’t divorce until 2009) and Townshend has been with Rachel Fuller ever since.

While not touring with The Who, Townshend has worked as a solo artist, producer, writer, editor at Faber & Faber, and a philanthropist, and he introduces us to those who were the most influential in his life (including friend Richard “Barney” Barnes, managers Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, and various paramours including Louise Reay & Lisa Marsh) while name dropping many of his famous friends and acquaintances, none of whom he appears to have a very close friendship with.  He discusses his Lifehouse, Psychoderelict & Iron Man (a.k.a. Iron Giant) projects at length – which sections were frankly, pretty boring – and also comes clean about his conviction as a sex offender and the events that led up to it because he naively clicked on a child pornography site while doing research for ways to help young boys in Russian orphanages.

Pete Townshend is a truly complex figure who has made a significant impact on rock ‘n’ roll history, and while I admire his candidness in Who I Am, I’m still not a fan of the man.

My Cross To Bear by Greg Allmann

Book Review
Title: My Cross to Bear
Author:  Gregg Allman
Publisher: William Morrow
Released: May 1, 2012
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0062112031
ISBN-13: 978-0062112033
Stars:  5.0

It’s no secret that I love music so it goes without saying that I really enjoy reading autobiographies of musicians, and I’ve read quite a few.  But none has been as worthy of note, so brutally honest, poignant and impressive as Gregg Allman’s, who with the help of Alan Light, writes about his remarkable life in My Cross to Bear.

“No, I’m no angel
No I’m not stranger to the streets
I’ve got my label
So I won’t crumble at your feet
And I know baby
So I’ve got scars upon my cheek
And I’m half crazy
Come on and love me baby

No I’m no angel
No I’m no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire with your spark
Oh come on baby
Come and let me show you my tattoo
Let me drive you crazy
Come on and love me baby”

The legendary front man for The Allman Brothers Band has lived a very hard yet rewarding life, filled with ecstasies and tragedies, and in My Cross to Bear he doesn’t sugar coat one single bit of it.  He allows us to see who Gregory really is, flaws and all, and I was so impressed by that.  Reading this book is like sitting down and listening to the man talk directly to you, leading you to believe that he considers you a friend.  I was so captivated by Gregory’s voice and humour that I have been experiencing a re-appreciation of his music that has left me with a little crush on this 64-year-old, long blonde-haired, tattooed man.

Gregory LeNoir Allman hails from Nashville, TN where he was born on December 8, 1947.  Since then he’s spent a large part of his life in Georgia which he calls home.  He’s a true southern gentleman and he writes with his own distinctive southern voice.  You can feel the heat in it, the whiskey, the cigarettes, along with sadness, joy, and hope that he’s still got time left to continue to work at being a better man and a better artist.

Gregory, as he’s known by his friends, is a rock and blues singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter, and one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band – the band who founded Southern Rock.  Inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Gregory has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2006), a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Americana Awards, and his idiosyncratic voice landed him at No. 70 of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.  And he truly is.  His latest album, Low Country Blues, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is a masterpiece.

Gregory explores his fatherless youth (his dad was murdered by a hitchhiker), his stint in military school, the birth of his first bands, and the subsequent evolution of the revolving cast of players in The Allman Brothers.  He revisits the untimely and tragic motorcycle deaths of both his older brother, guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 and band mate, bassist Berry Oakley, a year later.  He is forthcoming about his alcohol and drug addictions including his many unsuccessful attempts at rehab – although he’s been sober since the mid-1990s – the band’s excessive drug use, his reputation for being a “pussy hound”, and his unabashed love for the Hammond B-3 organ.

The Ramblin’ Man also discusses the challenge of working with guitarist Dickey Betts, the highs and lows of touring, skirmishes with the law, and his critically acclaimed solo work.  He professes his love for his mother, his five children (Michael Sean Allman – whom he never met until Michael was a grown man – Devon Lane Allman, Elijah Blue Allman – who he confesses that he doesn’t know very well – Delilah Island Allman – who he describes as the light of his life, and Layla Brooklyn Allman), all of whom have a different mother, his friends, his dogs and Harley Davidson motorcycles.  The man has been married six times, most famously to Cher (1975-79) whom he still respects and gets along with.  Although he’s been tied to the whipping post many times, he doesn’t like to be alone.  He is now engaged to 24-year-old Shannon Williams, who he says will be his first wife.

Gregory, who doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than himself in his autobiography, has dabbled in acting and most notably appeared in the 1991 film Rush directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sam Elliott.  Although he had very little dialogue in the film, his presence made a huge impact on the story as he was absolutely perfect for the role of the drug dealing, criminal heavyweight, Gaines.  I love this movie and have watched it many times, enjoying all of the cast’s performances as well as its memorable soundtrack by Eric Clapton.

Allman has been battling a number of health issues in recent years and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in late 2007, the result of an infection from a dirty tattoo needle.  In 2010 he had a liver transplant.  Through it all, he continues to make music and to tour, both as a solo artist and with The Allman Brothers.

Gregory Allman is a firm believer in everything happening for a reason.  It’s obvious that he’s done a lot of soul-searching since he’s been sober, even finding God in the Episcopal Church.  He lives every day with the grief of the loss of his big brother Duane, someone who continues to inspire the enlightened rogue, and yet just gets on with living his life.  He is truly inspirational.

 Music is my life’s blood.  I love music.  I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it.  And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, “Nice work, little brother – you did all right.

My Cross to Bear is everything that a rock’n’roll memoir should be: well-written, interesting, entertaining, emotive, chock full of stimulating music references, filled with great photos, rated R, and above all, unforgettable.  This is a must read for all music lovers!


Watch Gregg Allman talk about his memoir on CBS This Morning here.

My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young Is A Classic!

Book Review
Title: My Dear I Wanted To Tell You
Author: Louisa Young
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: May 31, 2011
Pages: 336
ISBN-10: 0061997145
ISBN-13: 978-0-00-736143
Stars: 4.5

Shannon Parsons of HarperCollins Canada provided a wonderful service when she sent me an advance reader’s copy of the elegantly written World War I romantic novel, My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young.

In mid-September I suffered a massive muscle spasm attack in my lower back and ended up in bed for a week.  The pain was intense whenever I had to get up and move around but when I lay down in bed I was much more comfortable so I ended up reading three books that week.  For a couple of days I was totally immersed and transported to the vivid and emotional world of Riley Purefoy & Nadine Waveney and Peter & Julia Locke.  Spellbound by their story, I was impressed by the author’s willingness to use four letter words where they were warranted and to allow her protagonists to traverse the spectrum of human emotions with authenticity.  I was truly sad when I finished the book because I didn’t want it to end.  Ms. Young has crafted a classic novel that will undoubtedly win several awards as well as linger with you long after the final page has been turned.

In 1907 London, eleven-year-old Riley meets the daughter of an eminent orchestral conductor whose dark-haired beauty and artistic family captivates him.  Nadine becomes his best friend and he becomes the protégé of her father’s painter friend, Sir Alfred.  Riley’s own dark good looks make him a desirable subject so he sits for Sir Alfred and his life soon changes forever.

Years pass and Riley realizes that although he has fallen in love with Nadine, he is from a different class and would never be approved as her suitor.  One night, after a drunken, homoerotic incident with another friend of Sir Alfred, the horrified Riley impulsively enlists in the army in an attempt to avoid being further humiliated.

I’m not usually a fan of stories set during war because I’m such a pacifist and don’t believe in war for any reason, but England and France during World War I certainly provide a gripping setting for this saga of love, loss, betrayal and redemption.

At the same time Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, fight for England in the muddy trenches of Ypres, Peter’s beautiful but rather vapid and immature wife, Julia, and his plain but intelligent cousin Rose impatiently await his return.  Julia goes through the motions of making sure the house is in perfect condition and keeps herself as impeccably groomed as possible because she never knows when her husband might be granted leave for a few days and come  home to her.  However, the war has changed Peter who has become a hard-drinking, morose man who would rather seek comfort in the arms of a prostitute than his wife.   As time goes on, the spurned Julia believes that perhaps with a few cosmetic enhancements she will once again win her husband’s affections.  While Julia fritters away her time worrying about her looks, Rose becomes a nurse who finds herself working with a ground-breaking plastic surgeon.

This novel depicts the horrors of war and primitive plastic surgery in dramatic detail and at the same time portrays the turmoil faced by the women who are left behind when their men go to battle.  The characters are so well-developed that you have no trouble investing in them or having empathy for them.  Riley stands out above the rest and you will shed tears for both him and Nadine.  Julia and Peter are slightly less sympathetic characters but no less interesting and while Rose had the potential to be a truly fascinating individual, she seemed to have been written with a bit less passion than the others.

My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’s title was adapted from a standard letter that was given to soldiers who were wounded and admitted to hospital.  In a cruel twist of fate, Riley is seriously injured and Rose becomes his nurse and confidante as he can no longer believe that Nadine, who has become his lover, could possibly accept what has become of him.  What he doesn’t know is that there are no limits to Nadine’s love.

Young, who has had an intriguing life so far with even more mesmerizing ancestry (her grandmother was the widow of Captain Scott, of the doomed Antarctic expedition, and she and her family grew up in the house owned by Peter Pan’s J.M. Barrie), is the author of the best-selling Lionboy trilogy for children.  According to Louisa Young’s website, My Dear I Wanted To Tell You

is the first of a trilogy observing – through the descendents of Peter, Julia, Riley, Nadine, Rose and others – ways in which the experiences of that massively traumatic period and its aftermath shaped the following generations: all of us who grew up in the twentieth century.

If that is the case, I’ll be waiting with anticipation for the next volume.

Juliet by Anne Fortier

Book Review
Title: Juliet
Author: Anne Fortier
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: 2010
Pages: 464
ISBN-10: 1554684994
ISBN-13: 978-1554684991
Stars: 4.0

When HarperCollins Canada asked me if I would like to be a part of their blog tour for author Anne Fortier and her impressive sophomore novel, Juliet, I jumped at the chance after reading the book’s synopsis.

“Juliet” follows Julie Jacobs on a trip to Siena, Italy where she is to locate an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a precarious journey into the true history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo turned medieval Siena upside down. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse — “A plague on both your houses!” — is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems the only one who can save her from her fate is Romeo . . . but where is he?

Juliet is a splendid romantic mystery set in Siena, Italy involving 25-year-old American Juliet Jacobs, a.k.a. Giulietta Tolomei, a direct descendant of THE Juliet of Romeo and Juliet notoriety. Juliet’s story is told in two centuries, Jacobs’ own, and the 14th century when the original Romeo and Giulietta’s tale unfolded in Siena – not Verona as Shakespeare had us believe.

When Juliet’s guardian, her great Aunt Rose, passes away, she leaves her entire estate to Juliet’s heinous twin sister Janice (the opposite of Juliet in almost every way) with whom she has an estranged relationship. For the single Juliet, who has never shown much ambition beyond teaching Shakespeare in summer camp, she leaves a mysterious key to a safety deposit box in her home town of Siena and a letter encouraging her to discover a treasure that will unlock the secrets of her own ancestry as well as the death of her parents. So begins Juliet’s exciting journey to medieval Tuscany where she uncovers history changing secrets and events that will put her life at risk while possibly introducing her to her own Romeo.

The novel juxtaposes between Juliet’s first person narrative in modern day and a third person narrative of the never before revealed events in the lives of the original Romeo Marescotti and Giulietta Tolomei. It will likely be a far more intoxicating read for those who have sound knowledge of Shakespeare’s play but I believe it will stand up as an above average read for lovers of historical fiction and romantic mystery even if you don’t. Juliet boasts a dramatic cast of intriguing characters including Juliet’s family butler Umberto, Eva Maria Salimbeni, her nefarious nephew Alessandro Santini, and the artist Maestro Lippi who will keep you riveted to the plot every step of the way!

Anne Fortierwho is as beautiful as the Juliet we all imagine, writes with splendor, intelligence and elegance and I was captivated by this story from Chapter 1. Her heroine is a complex character who is far from perfect which makes her refreshingly interesting and Fortier has obviously done a great deal of research, not only about medieval and modern day Siena, but also about Romeo and

Sir Frank Dicksee\’s Painting of Romeo and Juliet

Juliet. Like the Capulets and Montagues, she writes of two families who have been feuding for centuries – the Tolomeis and Salimbenis (who actually existed) – and her description of Siena is so perfect that you will find yourself fully immersed in it without any hesitation. For an armchair tourist like myself, I was in heaven!

There are so many deceptive twists and turns in this adventurous novel that it will keep you guessing until the final pages. The only thing that disappointed me about it was the “love scene” in Chapter VIII.II and without giving away anything, I’ll just say that it was a pretty big disappointment at that. My star rating dropped from 4.5 to 4 because of it.

However, it has been a joy to stumble upon a read this good. I worried for nothing about being able to read the book fast enough for HarperCollins’ deadlines, but I needn’t have as I could barely put it down. Reading Juliet is the perfect way to spend a chilly autumn day and I will be recommending this fascinating book, which will change your perception of Romeo and Juliet forever, to my girlfriends for a long time to come.

Anne Fortier, PhD. will be appearing at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto from October 30 – November 1 so don’t miss this opportunity to see her in person and to ask her all about the adventures of Juliet!

Thank you HarperCollins Canada! Find out more about the upcoming Juliet Blog Tour with Anne Fortier at www.facebook.com/HarperCollinsCanada, twitter.com/HarperCollinsCA and through the Savvy Reader Newsletter at www.harpercollins.ca/members/newsletters/samples/19.html

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave

Book Review
Title: The Death of Bunny Munro
Author: Nick Cave
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: 2009
Pages: 288
ISBN-10: 0865479100
ISBN-13: 978-0865479104
Stars: 3.5

Australian rock star Nick Cave (of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) is an interesting, eclectic artist who writes fantastic lyrics so it is for this reason that I let HarperCollins know that I wanted to read and review his book, The Death of Bunny Munro. I have not read his previous book so had nothing to compare, but this was every bit as remarkable and unusual a black comedy as I expected it would be and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.

Set in modern day England, this soft-porn tale of the seriously disturbed anti-hero, Bunny Munro, is a tragic one that unfolds with the fascinating curiosity of a train wreck. If this book was ever made into a movie it should be directed by David Lynch and star Vincent Gallo as Bunny.

Bunny Munro is a vagina-obsessed, social misfit who suffers from a major personality disorder but just happens to make his living as a door-to-door salesman of beauty products for the shadowy, enigmatic Eternity Enterprises. Bunny also happens to be a perverted man-whore who never ceases to look for a way to seduce the women he sells his beauty lotions to, much to the utter despair of his poor, long-suffering wife Libby, who is the mother of his 9-year-old prodigious son, Bunny Jr.

When Libby commits suicide, an inept Bunny finds himself having to figure out a way to look after his son. After a haunting by his dead wife in their apartment, he decides that he can’t live there anymore and packs up a few belongings, instructing Jr. to do the same (all he takes is a few clothes and his beloved encyclopedia that his mum gave him), and they head out on the road where Bunny embarks on a father/son bonding experience unlike any you have witnessed. He teaches him the tricks of his trade, like Bunny’s father did before him, all the while ignoring the fact that he is slowing sliding into Hell – where he rightfully belongs – face first.

Bunny Munro is not a character that you will have much empathy for and you know from the title of the book as well as its first sentence, how it will end. He’s a narcissistic, alcoholic, depraved mess of a human being who somehow manages to use his tiny bit of charm and twisted sense of humor to prey on lonely women with self-esteem issues. This explicit story, while challenging at times because you despise him so much, is also one in which you find yourself rooting for Munro’s precocious, innocent son, and wondering what kind of desperate women he’ll meet next, so you just have to read it until the end.

In one scene, Bunny sneaks out of the church where his wife is being eulogized, to enter a public toilet so he can masturbate (something which he does often throughout the book, constantly referring to the exquisite private parts of Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne who are the objects of his fantasies) and try to get his head around what is happening in his life.

“With eyes downcast, he stands before the reflective square of stainless steel screwed to the wall above the sink. After a while Bunny finds the courage to raise his head and look at himself. He half expects some drooling, slack-jawed ogre to greet him there in the smeared mirror and is pleasantly surprised to see that he recognizes the face that stares back at him – warm, loveable, and dimpled. He pats at his pomaded forelock and smiles at himself. He leans in closer. Yeah, there it is – that irresistible and unnameable allure – a little bashed and battered, to be sure, but who wouldn’t be?

Then, on closer inspection, he sees something else there, looking back at him. He leans in nearer still. Something grievous has resided in his face that he is amazed to see adds to his general magnetism. There is an intensity to his eyes that was not there before – a tragic light – that he feels has untold potential and he shoots the mirror a sad, emotive smile and is aghast at his new-found pulling power.”

Written in third person narrative, The Death of Bunny Munro is shockingly different and definitely not the kind of novel that would normally scream bestseller. It’s peculiar and peppered with grim details of each character’s surroundings, with an ending that is anti-climactic and somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed the ride nevertheless. Nick Cave’s writing is dramatic and unforgettable and the moral scope that he explores within the characters of this book makes for a courageous author who should be celebrated with Dionysian fervor.

If you don’t want to read about a sex-addicted, self-obsessed misogynist, skip this book. If you can’t help but be curious, and you like dark, surreal stories like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus for instance, you will probably enjoy this at least as much as I did.