Curses and Smoke
A Novel of Pompeii
Vicky Alvear Shecter
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2014
Curses and Smoke sizzles, like the soles of the feet racing away from the viciously spewing Vesuvius. Packed with heat, this book engulfs the reader with warmth and comfort while experiencing the friendship between Lucia and her best friend, the very pregnant and central Cornelia. Often smoldering, as the relationship between the daughter of the hate-filled, bitter Gladiator School Owner, Lucia, and his Healer Slave, Tags, deepens. Slow-burning admiration bordering on obsession adds flair as the spoiled-rich-man-playing-as-a-gladiator Quintus reveals his massive self-absorption and his desire for Tag’s approval.
Rumblings among this perfect blend of characters keep the pace moving as quickly as the animals fleeing Pompeii. Eruptions of anger, lewd displays of the overall disdain for women, and vile acts supporting and perpetuating the ignorance send red hot flames through the reader. Tension builds in direct correlation with the gathering of force within the earth and Cornelia’s expanding belly. Tender moments like those between Tags and his (self-appointed) assistant medicus, the young slave Castor; temper the heat quite kindly.
The interaction between the Roman and Etruscan humans create a spark. The author guarantees flames with her articulate presentation of both Roman and Etruscan gods and goddesses. Her knowledge of these histories, coupled with her clear understanding and empathy of the relationship the humans had with their gods and goddesses alludes to Ms. Shecter having had personal experience with her own goddess.
Divine assistance is the only explanation as to how Ms. Shecter brilliantly presents the geographical phenomena recorded during the weeks preceding the unfathomable eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, while encouraging fond recollections of Apollo, Hercules, Venus and Poseidon simultaneously introducing Mephistis, Samnite goddess of poisonous vapors, and Turan, the Etruscan goddess of love.
The author faced and conquered the formidable challenge of honestly portraying the ridiculous, inexcusable dismissal of females. She artfully hints at it with comments from the men in power: Lucia’s father, her “betrothed” and even Cornelia’s husband. The point is driven home in a heart-wrenching scene when Lucia confesses her consuming grief over the deaths of her baby sisters.
Throughout the engrossing story, there is hope. Genuine love, the true fondness for another person is rarely expressed as beautifully and sincerely. Decisions that Lucia and Tag are forced to make as the inevitable looms closer, demonstrate the kindness, generosity and support that we are all capable of.
Although only a small boy, Castor’s role is essential. He brings smiles, forces individuals to look deeply within and encourages the reader to keep perspective, while reminding us that there is always at least one reason to carry on.
I found this to be especially spectacular and I will be recommending it often.
Reviewed by jv poore, November 2014.
Love’s Sweet Sorrow
Vinspire Publishing, August 2014
Jason Sorren has put his murky past behind him and has landed on his feet in a big way. He’s changed his name to hide his past, has an impressive career and enjoys the best of everything. He has had many a girlfriend but none that caught his fancy as much as the ever elusive Ariel Hammond. But when Jason discovers a note that reveals a connection between two people involved in diverted arms shipments, he puts himself and Ariel in danger. After that the book becomes basically a cat and mouse chase between Jason, seeking the truth and gathering evidence, and the people trying to eliminate everyone with knowledge of the conspiracy. Oh, and there is a love story of sorts between Jason and Ariel.
The book was a fast paced read with many different plot threads to interest just about everyone. That would be my one criticism of the book. The author seems to want to please everyone and may instead leave everyone feeling a little empty. The book is basically a thriller with a love story, but also brings in a bit about the Quakers (Ariel’s religion) and Native Americans (a tie in with Jason’s childhood). And for good measures, the author threw in a mob connection.
The main characters are strong enough to carry a series. Perhaps the author should have used several books to cover the various topics. I would enjoy reading more about Jason and Ariel, but maybe with fewer topics involved.
Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, December 2014.
Shadows on a Maine Christmas
An Antique Print Mystery
Perseverance Press, September 2014
Maggie Summer has come to Maine during Christmas vacation to visit a man she would like to be more than a boyfriend. The obstacles in the way of furthering the relationship include her decision to adopt and his opposition to the adoption. In addition, he is caregiver to his 90 year old aunt, and living in different states completes the unfavorable equation.
Sub-zero weather in the days leading up to Christmas adds challenges to Maggie’s visit and the seeming unwillingness of her friend to include her in his future business plans almost assures an end to their relationship. When an acquaintance is murdered and Maggie’s assistance is sought to find the killer, Will becomes even more withdrawn and secretive about his business affairs. In spite of the approval of Will’s elderly aunt, can the holidays bring anything but more distress to a troubled relationship?
Intriguing characters and a Christmas snow-covered Victorian town provides a lovely setting to a compelling plot. Recommended reading over the holidays.
Reviewed by Elaine Faber, October 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.