Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Paper Garden By Molly Peacock

I’ve been taking a collage course this past fall and someone mentioned this book to me because Mrs. Delaney may have been the earliest creator of “mosaick” flowers. My collages tend to be either conceptual or abstract or a combination of both, Mrs. Delaney created intricate and botanically accurate flowers.

She was born in 1700 into an aristocratic family, although one on the bottom rung and without much money. Her early life included being married at the age of seventeen to a boorish sixty-year-old man. After seven years he died and she reveled in her freedom—including twenty years of freedom from matrimony.

During this time she kept up a voluminous correspondence with her sister Anne. The letters Anna kept enabled Molly Peacock to understand Mary Delaney.

At the age of forty-three Mary met Patrick Delaney, a Protestant Irish minister and she moved to Ireland. She and her husband resided in Ireland for over twenty-five years. Over time they created a beautiful garden and it is there Mary learned about the particulars of flowers.

Patrick died when Mary was sixty-eight. Their marriage had been blissful and she was distraught. For awhile she couldn’t find a way to proceed as a widow. Her good friend the Duchess of Portland took it upon herself to look after her and provide a place for Mary to live within her own home.

At the age of seventy Mary Delaney noticed the shape and color of a geranium petal that had fallen onto a dark table. Isolated from the flower she examined the petal and noticed that there was a piece of paper of a similar shade. That moment triggered her exploration into a world of collage.

She began to create paper flowers—“imitating flowers”. In order to do this accurately she took apart and studied flowers. Some of her compositions were made up of hundreds of pieces of paper. The Duchess owned a huge and quite imposing natural history collections and both encouraged Mary and championed her art. Soon Mary began to receive specimens from the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as specimens from different parts of the world.

Mary Peacock is obviously enamored with the story of Mary Delaney and weaves some of her own memoir into the story. At times that works seamlessly and at other times it is a stretch.

Reading The Paper Garden is a bit like being taken on a journey into a fairyland. Mary Delaney started on this journey at the age of seventy and completed close to one thousand flower collages by the time she reached eighty-three.

At some point in time I’d love to see her collages—up close—at the British Museum.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

This is the first in a series. I do like to start with the first book because I like to follow the development of relationships. In the Surgeon Tess Gerritsen introduces a few characters who , I expect, will keep appearing.

Rizzoli is the only female on the Boston Homicide Division. She's a bit prickly because as a woman in a men's domain she feels that she doesn't get the respect she's earned. She and her partner are called upon to investigate a brutal murder.

A serial killer is loose. One whose manner of killing is quite horrific—before slashing his female victim's throat he cuts into their stomach with a scalpel and removes their uterus. He is dubbed the surgeon.There were similar murders in Savannah, Georgia several years prior to the Boston murder. The killings stopped when his last victim shot him just as he was prepared to slice into her. That last victim was Dr. Cordell, a noted cardiac surgeon in a Boston hospital.

A number of incidents indicate that the victim the surgeon is really after is Dr. Cordell. The question — since Dr. Cordell killed the killer, who is this new killer? Is he a copy cat killer?

Gerritsen utilizes her medical background to be quite specific and detailed when writing of the killing; however, her writing is taut, controlled and the pace is quick. I found myself totally absorbed in the story and the side stories.

Would her partner Detective Thomas Moore, whose wife had died, continue with his relationship with Dr. Cordell.

I'll definitely continue with this series—I can always skim some of the more graphic scenes.

Mystery Challenge
Criminal Plots Challenge

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Sisters of Sinai By Janet Soskice

Certainly there are those who indulge in extreme sports or push their bodies to the ultimate test by competing in the Sahara Desert event-- one of the races in the " Racing the Planet ". Yet I think that the Smith sisters, Margaret and Agnes, were far more daring.

They were born in Scotland in 1843. Their father, widowed and bringing up the twins, didn't stint when it came to their education. The family of three traveled extensively and to encourage the acquisition of languages he offered travel to any country whose language they learned. That resulted in trips to France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Both girls ease with languages eventually extended to Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and in time old Syriac. Their upbringing included Biblical studies and church going. If you read and reread the Bible there's a curiosity regarding the land of the Bible.

Several years ago Bruce Feiler wrote, The Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses. He was infatuated with the same yearning that propelled Margaret and Agnes.

The first time they set out to see the biblical land they employed a chaperone. Given the time two young women traveling alone was not really acceptable. Soskice writes of their mishaps and the difficulty with their guides. Despite these setbacks they were smitten with the land and were to return many times.

While they both married their marriages were not to last more than several years. Both husbands died; however, Agnes's husband was a scholar and through him Agnes met a number of progressive male scholars.

Having heard and read about James Rendel Harris's discovery of The Apology of Aristides at St Catherine's Monastery near Mount Sinai they both yearned to visit.

In 1892 they set out for the monastery in the hopes of discovering some ancient biblical manuscripts. They took photographic plates and cameras to substantiate any finds.

Janet Soskice vividly paints a picture of the monastery and the disheveled manner in which some of the oldest manuscripts were stored. What follows is as exciting as a mystery novel. Not only do the twins make a remarkable discovery in a small dark room—having been told of the room by James Rendel Harris, but the translation and ensuing battle with two male biblical scholars makes for a fascinating read.

Their discovery: The Sinai Palimpsest— the words of Matthew and Luke written in Syriac, a "dialect of the Aramaic Jesus had spoken". And the translation "it preserved was even older, dating from the late second century A. D."

Listen to an interview with the author, Janice Soskice.