#BookReview The Dead of Winter by S. J. Parris @fictionpubteam

20210117_102213-1About the Book

Three exhilarating novellas following the early adventures of young priest Giordano Bruno in the dramatic days of sixteenth century Italy.

The Secret Dead – During the summer of 1566, a girl’s body is found within the walls of a Neapolitan monastery. Novice monk Giordano Bruno has a habit of asking difficult questions, but this time his investigations may lose him his place in the Dominican Order – or deliver him into the hands of the Inquisition.

The Academy of Secrets – An invitation arrives from a secret society of enlightened philosophers, led by the eccentric Don Giambattista della Porta. Bruno is captivated – even more so when he meets della Porta’s beautiful niece. But keeping these new heretical secrets soon becomes a matter of life or death…

A Christmas Requiem – When Giordano Bruno is told the Pope wants to see him, he fears he may be walking into a trap. The Pope is intrigued by Bruno’s talent for complex memory games, but Rome is a den of intrigue, trickery and blood, and Bruno will be lucky to escape the Eternal City alive.

Format: Hardcover (240 pages)                Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 12th November 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I’ve read all the books in S. J. Parris’s Giordano Bruno series – Heresy, Prophecy, Sacrilege, Treachery, Conspiracy – with the exception of the latest, Execution. I was therefore delighted to receive The Dead of Winter as a birthday present from my husband. The Dead of Winter comprises three novellas – The Secret Dead, The Academy of Secrets and A Christmas Requiem, along with an excerpt from Execution. Readers should be aware that all three stories have been published individually in ebook format: The Secret Dead in June 2014 and The Academy of Secrets in March 2020. Only A Christmas Requiem is a new story although it is also available separately as an ebook.

The fact the first two novellas are repackaged versions of previously published standalone stories probably accounts for the fact there is some repetition in their opening pages. Also it was only when I consulted Goodreads that I realized I’d already read The Secret Dead back in 2015. Fortunately, given the lapse of time, I didn’t recall much of the story.

Giordano Bruno’s escapades in The Secret Dead and The Academy of Secrets reveal the characteristics that readers of the series will have come to know: his interest in furthering his knowledge of anatomy and science, often only to be found in forbidden texts; his habit of asking questions and challenging the established teaching of the Church; and his impetuous nature.  As he admits, “I already knew what it meant to harbour secret beliefs in your heart, beliefs that could lead you into the flames…”.  The opportunity to gain access to a secret library containing many of those forbidden texts proves irresistible.  As it turns out, it’s not the only thing that proves irresistible.

A Christmas Requiem in which Giordano Bruno is summoned to Rome by Pope Pius V was my favourite of the stories, not only because of the location but also because of its seasonal setting. I enjoyed witnessing Giordano’s wide-eyed reaction to seeing the Eternal City, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I especially liked the section in which he attends Cardinal d’Este’s Christmas Eve party which, as well as presenting him with temptations of the flesh, allows him to witness the lavish lifestyle of those who preach the virtues of abstinence and self-denial to others. “There were stews of boar, beef and venison; plates of fish and shellfish; fresh pasta stuffed with cheeses and pine nuts; pies and pastries; roasted game birds and songbirds in thick sauces of cream and herbs; seven different kinds of bread.”  Unsurprisingly, Giordano Bruno soon finds himself caught up in the personal rivalries between powerful men – and women. It’s a pattern that will be repeated in years to come.

Although the three novellas are more accounts of the escapades of the young Giordano Bruno than murder mysteries in the manner of the full length novels, for fans of the series they give an insight into the formation of the character they have come to know from the books.  And for new readers, unsure about whether to embark upon the series, they provide a tasty appetizer.

In three words: Entertaining, lively, assured

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S. J. ParrisAbout the Author

No.1 Sunday Times bestseller S. J. Parris is the pseudonym of the author and journalist Stephanie Merritt. It was as a student at Cambridge researching a paper on the period that Stephanie first became fascinated by the rich history of Tudor England and Renaissance Europe. Since then, her interest has grown and led her to create this series of historical thrillers featuring Giordano Bruno.

Stephanie has worked as a critic and feature writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines, as well as radio and television. She has also written the contemporary psychological thriller While You Sleep under her own name. She currently writes for the Observer and the Guardian, and lives in Surrey with her son. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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Giordano Bruno S. J. Parris

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason #BookReview @MantleBooks

20200131_142931About the Book

From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Winter Soldier and The Piano Tuner, a collection of interlaced tales of men and women as they face the mysteries and magic of the world

On a fateful flight, a balloonist makes a discovery that changes her life forever. A telegraph operator finds an unexpected companion in the middle of the Amazon. A doctor is beset by seizures, in which he is possessed by a second, perhaps better, version of himself. And in Regency London, a bare-knuckle fighter prepares to face his most fearsome opponent, while a young mother seeks a miraculous cure for her ailing son.

At times funny and irreverent, always moving and deeply urgent, these stories – among them a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize winner – cap a fifteen-year project. From the Nile’s depths to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from volcano-racked islands to an asylum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, these are tales of ecstasy, epiphany, and what the New York Times Magazine called the “struggle for survival…hand to hand, word to word,” by “one of the finest prose stylists in American fiction”.

Format: Hardcover (240 pages) Publisher: Mantle
Publication date: 14th May 2020 Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

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My Review

I adored Daniel Mason’s novel The Winter Soldier so you can imagine my delight when the lovely Camilla Elworthy at Mantle offered me a proof copy of his latest book, a collection of stories intriguingly titled A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth.

Usually in a collection of short stories there are one or two that fall a little flat or which aren’t as engaging as the rest. Not so with this collection as each story offered something slightly different and had its own special appeal, whether that’s the immersive atmosphere of a period in time (such as in ‘Death of a Pugilist’) or a place (as in ‘The Ecstasy of Alfred Russell Wallace’), a quirky character (as in the Jekyll and Hyde-like ‘The Second Doctor Service’), unexpected touches of humour (as in ‘The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I’) or poignant moments (as in ‘For The Union Dead’).

However, if I have to pick out a favourite it would be ‘The Line Agent Pascal’ which tells the story of the lonely existence of a telegraph operator stationed in the depths of the Amazon jungle. He maintains a connection with the outside world through the signals of his fellow operators up and down the line. Over the years, he comes to know them from small details such as requests for medication, instructions to their tailors or orders for favourite foods, until one day the absence of a message changes everything.

As you read the stories, and especially as you read the strangely compelling and poignant final story, the subtle links between them and their recurring themes become clearer: the desire to explore, the search for understanding or knowledge, the urge to record for posterity. The book had me searching for more information about many of the characters featured, as a result of which I can safely say I know more about a Brazilian who made art from found objects than I could have possibly ever imagined. Tip: search online for some images of the work of Arthur Bispo do Rosário.

As I was reading an uncorrected proof copy, I can’t share any quotations so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the book contains some superb writing. A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth is a tour de force of imagination and one of the most absorbing and satisfying short story collections I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.

In three words: Dazzling, imaginative, assured

Try something similar: Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston

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About the Author

Daniel Mason is a physician and author of The Piano Tuner (2002), A Far Country (2007), The Winter Soldier ​(2018), and A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth (2020).  His work has been translated into 28 languages, awarded the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize.  The Piano Tuner was produced as an opera by Music Theatre Wales, and adapted to the stage by Lifeline Theatre.  His short stories and essays have appeared in ​The AtlanticHarper’s, Zoetrope: All Story and Lapham’s Quarterly; in 2014 he was a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A Clinical Assistant Professor in the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry, his research and teaching interests include the subjective experience of mental illness and the influence of literature, history, and culture on the practice of medicine.

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