1. ANGELICA by Arthur Phillips
I was excited to discover that Arthur Phillips had a new book out because I found his last novel, THE EGYPTOLOGIST, so intriguing. It was difficult to slog through but the ending was really unsettling. ANGELICA promised to offer a similar experience. Set up as a Victorian ghost story, ANGELICA follows the lives of a household troubled by secrets and insanity. A lonely wife believes that her household is haunted and that the ghost wishes to harm her 4-year-old daughter. In desperation, she consults a local medium to help rid her of the spirit. The book is told from four different points of view. In the end, it leaves the reader with a great many unanswered questions. What is truth and what is reality? Very well-written but frustrating at times.
2. VIVALDI'S VIRGINS by Barbara Quick
I was selected to review this book by HarperCollins' First Look program. The book itself will be released in July. At first glance, this book looked like another Tracy Chevalier or Sarah Dunant "famous-artist-inspired-by-muse" story. In this case, the story revolves around a group of cloistered virgins in Venice who are famous for their musical abilities. Most of them were abandoned as babies and only the girls are allowed to take part in the music. The protagonist is a girl named Anna Maria who excels at the violin. Her teacher just happens to be Antonio Vivaldi. Surprisingly, Vivaldi is NOT at the center of the story. If anything, he is a relatively minor character. Instead, the story focuses on Anna Maria's search for her identity and parentage and touches on the problems that females faced at this particular time. Anna Maria's story is touching but the clues throughout the book about the truth of her parentage are a bit heavy-handed. Very few surprises await the reader at the end of the novel. VIVALDI'S VIRGINS is a quick and satisfying read, however. Fans of historical female-centered fiction probably won't be disappointed.