General Fiction Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal, April 2004

Hadrian's Wall by William Dietrich

HarperCollins, March, 2004
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN: 0060563710
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Hadrian's Wall
 by William Dietrich Near the end of the fourth century, the Roman Empire was losing its grip in its conquered territories, including Britannia. Never able to completely subdue the barbarians from the north, the Romans built Hadrian's Wall in the second century, to separate the Roman part of Britain from the Celts, who threatened from the north. Spanning over seventy miles, the wall was a marvel of engineering and military prowess. William Dietrich uses this backdrop for his gripping new historical novel. Draco, an inspector for Rome, has been sent to Hadrian's Wall in northern Britannia to investigate a major uprising and invasion. The story of what really happened unfolds as Draco's investigation proceeds.

Hardened soldier and brilliant tactician Galba Bassidias is furious that he has been passed over for promotion to be the commander of the Petriana Cavalry. But for political reasons, Rome gave the job to the bookish and inexperienced Lucius Marcus Flavius, a coldly ambitious aristocrat who is engaged to marry a beautiful Senator's daughter, Valeria. Galba immediately begins to manipulate the situation to his own advantage and Flavius only sees Valeria as a means to furthering his career. When Valeria is kidnapped by the barbarian chieftain of the Celts, Arden Caratacus, who wants freedom from the Romans for his people, events are brought to the boiling point and the area of Hadrian's Wall governed by Flavius explodes into violence and chaos. But Valeria is much smarter and more resourceful than any of the three men in her life -- Galba, Flavius or Caratacus -- imagine, as they will soon find out.

Novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Dietrich combines intrigue, adventure, politics and romance to create a fascinating portrait of life in the fourth century. Using the character of Draco, the investigator looking into the violent events that occurred at the Wall, Dietrich skillfully spins a story that is so absorbing that you won't be able to put the book down. The richly layered characters - the complex Valeria, the fury-filled, revenge-seeking Galba, the ambitious Flavius and the introspective narrator, Draco - are all brought vividly to life by Dietrich's tightly-written, crisp prose. The battle scenes are gruesomely authentic and not in the least bit romanticized; the reader is thrust right into the middle of the battlefield, with screaming, naked barbarians hacking at opponents with battleaxes and Roman legionnaires swinging deadly swords. This is a sweeping and powerful historical novel, filled with political intrigue, action and romance.

--Claire E. White

The Blue Piano and Other Stories by Carol Montparker

Amadeus Press, February, 2004
Hardcover, 253 pages
ISBN: 1574670875
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The Blue Piano and Other Stories
 by Carol Montparker Reading The Blue Piano is like having lunch with a special musical friend. The stories are short, anecdotal, and thoroughly enjoyable. For people who incorporate listening, playing and sharing the world of classical music with friends there is a special, perhaps subconscious sense of belonging to the same community. Carol Montparker is a part of that world, someone who gave up a career as a concert pianist, which makes her the perfect spokesperson for lovers of classical music.

The story about the hideous blue piano that the author refused to utilize during one of her concerts at Steinway Hall perfectly demonstrates the basic personality of a lover of classical music. Certain musical experiences cannot be evoked when played on a gaudy instrument. Somehow nothing is quite right. There are all kinds of music, and each kind seems to demand a particular instrument and a particular setting to be fully enjoyed by both listener and artist. Ms. Montparker's dilemma is understandable: her wish not to offend the revered firm that makes the favorite instruments of pianists is at war with her knowledge of the absolute absurdity of playing a classical program on such a ludicrous instrument. The reader can empathize completely.

One of the special delights of The Blue Piano is that it allows the reader to meet and understand people who must have classical music in their lives . Few of them are wealthy. The story , "Rubenstein, Michelangelo and Ernest" recounts the frustrations of facing the sartorial difficulties of obtaining and maintaining a rarely-used tuxedo. The humor of the predicament will no doubt trigger similar stories in the minds of readers.

This delightful short story collection entertains and delights in a unique way. Without pretension, the stories deal with the importance of music in life while also recounting the delights of gardening, friendship and the general human experience in all its richness. It is a collection that celebrates life and with its many emotions in every story. Ms. Montparker's easy and unpretentious style takes us through a life lived with music and affection.

--Sarah Reaves White

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