Friday, May 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Frozen Voices by Lynne Heinzmann plus bonus recipe

This is a crisp and readable novelization of the steamship Larchmont disaster, which claimed the lives of 137 people off the Rhode Island coast in February 1907.

The best historical fiction often simultaneously relates little-known or forgotten events while breathing life into the people affected by them. Frozen Voices is in this category, despite its occasional lack of dimensionality. Heinzmann’s cast of historical characters, while small in number, all speak in a closely similar inner narrative voice. Her rendition of spoken dialog is better, if a little stereotypical in spots, and conveys the Yiddishisms of young seamstress Sadie Golub alongside the Swedish smatterings of Anna Jenson, an older and more well-to-do immigrant to the U.S.

Locksmith’s apprentice and aspiring magician Millard Franklin is among the livelier personae, despite a certain “gee whiz” enthusiasm which may appeal more to a YA reading audience. Perhaps her most fascinating character, the magician Harry Houdini plays a relatively minor but pivotal plot role as Millard’s prospective employer.

Realism asserts itself, however, in the tragic and dismal climax, and the starry-eyed quality of the story’s beginnings serves as a stark contrast to this poorly understood event. Contrast is the book’s strongest suit. Well worth reading.

Review first published in The Historical Novel Review

BONUS RECIPE

Pan Seared Scallops with Wild Mushrooms

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. sea scallops
2 cups raw assorted mushrooms (cremini, straw, shitaki - mix it up as you like)
2 cups butternut squash puree, (peel, cube and steam squash till soft and process with salt and white pepper to taste)
1/4 cup toasted pepitos
Dash balsamic vinegar
Dash extra virgin olive oil

Sear scallops over high heat with a dash of olive oil until brown and  just cooked through.
Remove from pan and add another dash of oil and the mushrooms. Lower heat to medium and cook mushrooms until almost dry (about 15 mins). Deglaze with vinegar. Plate scallops over pureed squash, top with mushrooms and garnish with pepitos.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Where did the Minoans Come From? Where did they Go?


Europe's First Bronze Age Civilization

The captivating mystique of the culture of Crete is growing stronger every day, as new evidence of the depth and reach of this first and greatest of Europe's Bronze Age cultures is brought to light. But who were the peoples we have come to call the Minoans? Perhaps more importantly, what happened to them?

Sumptuous palaces and artwork have been unearthed on Crete, including at Knossos, Phaistos and Mallia. Although we have their Linear A writings, they remain untranslated to this day. The civilization's heyday was between the 18th and 16th centuries B.C.E.  Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated Knossos in the late 19th century (and named them "Minoans" in honor of the later Greek legends of King Minos) theorized they came from North Africa. But in light of recent DNA evidence, the Minoans appear to have originated in a European people who migrated to Crete during Neolithic times, perhaps 10,000 years ago. See  May 14, 2013, Nature Communications, “A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete.” Neither is an eastern origin probable, although some relationship to the Phoenicians seems likely.

Evidence from Canaan

Both traditional Biblical testimony as well as modern archeology show a clear, and possibly quite early presence of Minoan culture in Canaan and the Levant. Minoan frescoes have been found in Israel at Tel Kabri, and the Bible specifically identifies the origin of the Philistines as "Caphtor," a close variant of the Egyptian word for Crete. The Philistines are later identified from Egyptian and other sources as one of the "Sea Peoples" responsible for the downfall of nearly every Mediterranean empire but Egypt around 1200 B.C.E. Indeed, evidence suggests that the Minoans may have been in Canaan at the beginning of the Bronze Age, or even earlier. Much of what we know of the Sea Peoples has likely been influenced by this traditional connection.

A Seafaring People

The Minoans were a seafaring society, possibly the most advanced of their era. It is still in dispute whether their trade network can be called a nautical "empire," as there is little direct evidence of their being a military power, rather than a peaceful mercantile bureaucracy. That their navy was capable of defense however, is evident in that fact that their Aegean cities required no walled fortifications for protection.

While we have no direct evidence that the Minoan culture "ruled" the seas, the development of port cities and harbors throughout the eastern Mediterranean as far back as the early Bronze Age exhibits strong similarities to Crete in both their design and technology, as well as their basic purpose of supporting what appeared to be a robust maritime trade relationship between the Aegean, Egypt and the Levant:

Where did they go?

The well known eruption of Thera (modern Santorini) no doubt contributed to the downfall of the Minoans on Crete and the nearby Aegean. But in addition to the ones we know of in the Mediterranean, could the culture already have had long established trade colonies beyond the Straits of Gibraltar by the time of the cataclysm?

Fascinating but speculative evidence from the new world suggests that Bronze Age Minoan traders may have been responsible for Meso-American "Copper Culture" artifacts, and the evidently extensive and unexplained copper mining in the North American and Canadian Midwest.

Great care must be used in evaluating any new world evidence as the "archeological" record has been subject to intense competing interests, not the least of which are Mormon beliefs in early advanced civilization in North and Meso-America, and fraught with numerous frauds, both pious and mercenary.

Perhaps the Minoan culture survived both the Theran eruption and the later Aegean Apocalypse outside the Mediterranean. Stretching our imagination even further, could the Sea Peoples have been the descendants of the pre-Theran Minoan culture, come back to claim their heritage?

We look forward to further findings.

***

J.P. Jamin is the author of The Seas Come Still, a metaphysical novel based upon the fall of the Minoan culture.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen plus bonus recipe

This is an intriguing if somewhat predictable love story with religious undertones set in 19th-century England. Captain Stephen Overtree, a responsible elder son, marries the daughter of a famous artist. The girl, Sophia, became pregnant by Stephen’s free-spirited younger brother, Wesley, before he ran off to the continent.
The strife between proper “moral” behavior and Bohemianism plays out in the extended Overtree family, and Sophia struggles to fit in. Sophia’s secret love for Wesley and the need to keep secret the circumstances of her pregnancy is a focal conflict of the story, and Wesley’s climactic return makes a good plot point. An interesting cast of characters includes Stephen’s old nurse, a woman with a propensity for predicting the future. While historical in setting, the novel’s values and voice have a somewhat modern feel.
The novel will appeal to those Regency romances readers who may also like faith-based novels. The story has it all for the romance fan: unrequited love, loss of innocence and two men battling for the heart of one woman. It is an easy read, although improbable at times. Fans of Bethany House’s other offerings will enjoy it.
Review first published in The Historical Novel Review
BONUS RECIPE
Cambodian Red Curry Bean Curd with Sauteed Peppers

Ingredients:

1 block of firm Tofu, cubed
2 TBS Kroeng Cambodian red curry paste
1 Large shallot sliced
1 hot green pepper cut in rings
1 yellow and 1 red sweet pepper sliced in rings
I clove elephant garlic cut in thick slices
I tsp minced fresh ginger
3 TBS cream of coconut
1 cup chicken stock mixed with one tsp cornstarch
dash soy sauce
dash salt
dash lime juice
3 TBS peanut oil
1 TBS sesame oil

Saute tofu with Kroeng and salt in the peanut oil in a very hot wok until tofu is beginning to brown. Add stock, cream of coconut and cornstarch.  Toss and let cook down until the sauce is thick and coats well.  Set aside in a warm bowl.

Reheat wok and add sesame oil and remainder of ingredients.  Saute 4-5 mins until peppers are seared.  Cover and let steam over low heat for 5 mins more.  Serve over jasmine rice, veggies first, then top with tofu.  Pairs well with Champagne.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick


, , , (US) $25.99 (UK) £12.99, ISBN(US) 9780062448767,(UK) 9781910701737, Hardback, 304 pp.
Find & buy on Amazon

This spellbinding debut novel encompasses the past, present and future of two unexpected lovers whose lives and relationships are intertwined with the passing of great comets overhead. The characters’ complexity and the connections in their lives build as the book slowly gets to its climax.

The two primary characters first meet on a snowy white expanse of modern Antarctica and are immediately drawn to each other, knowing everything will change for them. They are completely different in personality and past. Older by a few years, scientist Róisín grew up in a tiny village in Ireland with her astronomer father. She is passionate and well suited for surviving and working on the remote base station. François, the chef for the base, has left his birthplace in Bayeux, France, never having been away from home before. They are each longing for a fresh start, their respective reasons for leaving home each tied to tragedy.

Time and its complexity are the book’s most magical elements. The destinies of the two lovers are shown by the glimpses of the past and future, the celestial visitation of comets, and the ghostly, almost watchful presence of their ancestors. The novel’s main story is contemporary, but each chapter provides a historical vignette going back as early as the 11th century.

Sedgwick’s style is demonstrative and tactile, with the sweet, casual poeticism of haiku. A skillfully crafted, and emotionally perceptive novel that gives the reader a chance to explore the choices we make, the connections we miss, and the ties that inextricably join our fates.

Review first published in The Historical Novel Review

BONUS RECIPE

Slow braised brisket triple decker with Bubbie's sweet vinegar gravy.

Ingredients:

3 pound fatty cut of beef brisket
2 medium onions
1/2 cup chopped fennel fronds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup diced carrots
2 staves celery
Basil leaf
1 TBS each rough cut parlsey, rosemary, thyme, juniper berries
Handful of shitake mushrooms
3 quarts beef stock
2 TBS cornstarch, mixed with 2 TBS of the stock in a cup
3 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS apricot jelly
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and set to low for 8-10 hours.

Remove meat carefully with two slotted spoons to a greased cookie sheet, fat side up.  Brush with apricot jelly and place close under broiler for 2-4 minutes or until well browned but not burned. 

Strain liquid into a saucepan over medium heat. Thicken with cornstarch mixture and adjust seasoning to taste.

Toast three slices of rustic rye or sourdough bread, add cheese if desired (melt in micro for 30 secs on bread). Slice brisket thinly on bias, place on bread and sauce.  Serve with tomato, thin sliced raw onion, horseradish, fried egg if desired. Pairs well with Stout.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

5 Reasons the Minoan Eruption May Have Been Worse Than We Thought - And Might Happen Again



No one disputes that the eruption of the volcanic island of Santorini (called Thera in ancient times) was a catastrophe on a massive scale, affecting large areas of the Aegean and linked to the decline of the powerful Minoan civilization. But could it have been much worse than originally thought? And more importantly, could it happen again?

1. Radiocarbon studies paint a picture much more grim than previously believed.

The most accepted date of the eruption, based on carbon dating of pumice deposited during the first stage, traditionally thought less destructive, is a little before 1600 B.C.E., although archaeological evidence is still debated. But those same radiocarbon studies paint a picture much more grim than originally thought.  Carrying a heavy rain of hot pumice, the 25-mile high eruption column spread a blanket up to 7 meters thick not just on Santorini itself, but across the entire Aegean and possibly beyond. Most terrifying of all, everything below the layer is older, and everything above it, much younger. But the Santorini volcano was only getting started.

2. Much of the eruption occurred below the sea surface, creating a tsunami of enormous size.

Archaeologists have long known that a tsunami accompanied the second stage of the eruption, and that some amount of damage was done to the Minoan civilization on its home island of Crete to the south.  But more recent studies of sea deposits show that the massive wave flooded coastal areas as far away as modern Israel, and throughout the Mediterranean. How is this possible? Because much of the eruption occurred below the sea surface, creating a tsunami of enormous size, as hundreds of cubic kilometers of sea water collapsed into the massive undersea caldera.

3. The sheer volume of the eruption was much greater than earlier believed

In the 1990's, geologists estimated that 39 cubic kilometers of magma and rock had erupted from the volcano around 1600 B.C., based on fallout observed on land.  But new evidence of the marine deposits resulted in an increased approximation of 60 cubic kilometers. These revised estimates place the Santorini eruption as the second largest in recorded history. More recent studies have produced even larger estimates of the kinetic power of the eruption, a blast with the energy of hundreds of atomic bombs occurring within a fraction of a second, possibly making it the largest ever.

4. The environmental damage may have been of literally Biblical proportions.

The eruption appears to have substantially turned the course of the previously stable Mediterranean climate. The after effects during the years following the eruption may have killed far more people than the event itself, and lead to the downfall of civilizations, as well as the providing the basis for the Biblical plagues, famine and Exodus narratives.

5. Could it happen again?

Short answer, definitely, but the big question is when. Minor eruptions occur fairly frequently on Santorini, but eruptions like the Minoan event are of a much grander scale, classed as plinian eruptions, and occur after a long period of subsurface dome building. This took thousands of years before the Minoan blast, but Santorini is by far not the most monitored active volcano on the planet.   The Minoans appeared to have had enough notice to evacuate Crete before the blast.  Given what we now know of its potential, it is certain we should keep a closer eye on Thera.

J.P. Jamin is an historical novelist who's latest book The Seas Come Still is based upon the fall of the Minoan civilization.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Labrys and Horns by Laura Perry

Labrys and Horns by Laura Perry


An authentic scholar and practitioner, Perry offers a gorgeously structured and informative guide to the cultic history of Crete and the integration and relevance of Neo-Minoan spirituality in contemporary life.

When it comes to what we think we know of ancient Crete, much has been made of very little. Perry's integrity sets her apart from the many well meaning re-imaginers of ancient paganism. The book begins with a thorough digest of the real evidence we have of Bronze Age Minoan culture, and a number of honest best guesses inspired by later Mycenaen archeology and Linear B writings. She does a masterful job of making the often confusing history accessible to the interested layperson. Carefully selected line images of Minoan artifacts and sacred symbols, and a well chosen roster of the most important goddesses and other divinities create an invaluable basis for the aspiring practicioner of this important but largely lost Pagan tradition.

But the heart and soul Perry brings to her subject matter makes Labrys and Horns truly special. Her unspoken assumption that the Pagan spirit will recognize itself in the remnant testimony of Minoan Crete rings true, and the book, while compelling to anyone, will resonate most powerfully with those already familiar with other strains of Pagan belief and practice.

It is equally affirming and inspiring to the informed afficionado. I have spent years researching ancient Crete as an historical novelist, but found dozens of fascinating nuggets I either didn't know or had not connected: the worship of sacral vestments, the extensive plethora of horned deities other than the bull, and the possible ritual and meditative uses of wine and the open fisted "Minoan salute," to name just a few.

Perry concludes with clear, detailed suggestions for real life practice, including the wonderful admonition to "listen to your inner voice."  Well said.  Her personal testimony is perhaps the book's strongest virtue.  Enthusiastically recommended.

See all of Laura Perry's literary and artistic offerings at http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 481 pp. hc, $27.00 U.S. / $35.00 CAN., 978-1-4555-6393-7

An ambitious multigenerational family saga evocative of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, Lee's second novel Pachinko is engaging, complex, and highly relevant to the modern immigration experience.
The main protagonist is Sunja, daughter of a poor Korean tenant farmer born just after the turn of the century. At first the novel strikes us as economical of description; but the bleakness of Korean life before World War II is masterfully conveyed in Lee's spare style.

After the death of her father-the untimely demise of good men being a major theme-Sunja's mother takes in boarders to make ends meet during the worsening pre-war economy. At 15, Sunja's world is turned suddenly and forever upside down by the love of a fascinating older man who is rich, powerful, and the harbinger of secrets. The child she bears him, and her prideful refusal to become his mistress are decisions that will determine not only Sunja's own fate, but that of her family for generations to come.

Lee's stoic style continues to suit her subject matter, as life in Japanese occupied Korea becomes more difficult and Sonya moves to Japan with her new husband, a frail young Christian minister who married her to save her honor. But life for a Korean immigrant in Osaka proves no easier.
Despite its starkness there is a chaotic intimacy to the story which makes it seem more personal testament, somewhat robbing it of the universal message the reader buys in for. The novel's unabashed ethnic pride also plays a role-Koreans as unfailingly steadfast in their cultural morality despite universal victimization by the Japanese. Perhaps this may be forgiven Lee given the novel's realism, but the hurried tone of the final chapters of the saga, and the bleak conclusion, leave the reader with few other takeaways. A gripping read overall.

Review first published in The Historical Novel Review