To Hold the Throne: A Novel of the Last Maccabee Princess and King Herod the Great

Joni Okun’s novel, To Hold the Throne, is a wonderful work of historical fiction which transports the reader to an exciting and turbulent period in the life of ancient Judea. The Maccabean (Hasmonean) dynasty has been torn apart, both from an internal struggle for power and from the foreign influence of Rome. A new king has been crowned, Herod the Idumean, counsellor to former King Hyrcanus and married to the old ruler’s granddaughter, Mariamne, the last Maccabee princess. The novel focuses on Mariamne and Herod, their complicated relationship, and their inner thoughts and fears. The supporting cast includes great men and women of the era, among them Marc Antony, Augustus Caesar, and Cleopatra.
There is something for everyone in this tale, which incorporates elements of suspense, intrigue, romance, treachery, murder and warfare. I can’t help thinking that it would make a phenomenal television mini-series. The settings are lush and meticulously detailed, and the characters are well developed and engage the reader. These are people one comes to care about, even as one questions their motives and their stability. While this is a work of fiction, it is clear that a lot of research went into bringing this ancient world to life. Those who are familiar with Herod as a master builder and as the architect of the Slaughter of the Innocents may be unaware of the events which unfolded decades before, when his scheming first brought him to power. And Mariamne, the tortured link between the Maccabee and Herodian dynasties, is a worthy foil to her ambitious husband. While some of the characters may be familiar to the reader, this novel is certain to cast them in a new light as complex and flawed human beings.
I am always delighted to discover a new author whose work has me turning pages and feeling sad when I reach the end. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I am already looking forward to seeing where Joni Okun takes me next. If you enjoy historical fiction, or actually any form of fiction, you really should not miss this novel.~AMAZON CUSTOMER

Icelandic Epic: Independent People

Halldor Laxness’s masterpiece, Independent People, won the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature for its “vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.” Both accessible and luminously written, this book will transport you to early Twentieth Century Iceland. You will feel its biting cold, its isolation, and see the stark beauty of a land that is both friend and foe to the people who dwell there.

Bjartur of Summerhouses is a sheep farmer whose steely determination to achieve independence, despite the forces against him— nature and the economy— is both heart wrenching and darkly comic. Bjartur buys a small farmhouse and some sheep after working eighteen years as a lowly servant, and wants only to raise his family and flocks without debt or obligation to any man. He finds his stubborn match in his daughter, who seeks her own independence, and their epic battle of wills is moving and illuminating. This rewarding read will not be forgotten; it will live forever in your heart.

Literature

While thoughts exist, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.

– Cyril Connolly

British literary critic Cyril Connolly (born September 10, 1903) was the founder and editor of Horizon, an influential literary magazine during World War II. His journalism career began with articles in popular periodicals like the New Statesman, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. He wrote just one novel, The Rock Pool, but he is best known for his collections of essays, including Enemies of Promise, The Condemned Playground, and The Unquiet Grave.

New book by the amazing Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl is Anne Tyler’s delightful contribution to The Hogarth Shakespeare project, which has has some of today’s best novelists put a modern spin on Shakespeare’s most beloved works. Tyler bases her poignant yet hilarious book on The Taming of the Shrew. Thorny Kate Battista is in a rut. She’s tired of managing every household detail for her father, an eccentric scientist, and her shallow, pretty younger sister, Bunny. She works as a pre-school assistant teacher, and she’s  in hot water for her abrupt but honest manner with parents and faculty, even if the children do love her.

Kate’s father, Dr. Battista, is  a research scientist in a quandary. He is close to a break-through in an important a research project he has been working on for years. However, Pyotr, the brilliant  young scientist who assists him,  has received  notice he will soon face deportation.  Without Pyotr,  Dr. Battista doubts he can ever finish the research. So he hatches a plan to keep  Pyotr in the country. He wants Katie to marry his research assistant. Katie is livid. This time, her father is asking way too much of her. But will she be able to resist joining in her father’s preposterous scheme?

The characters are so delightful and funny I laughed on every surprisingly touching page.  I think you will enjoy this one. Pease let me know what you think after you read it.