Friday, August 20, 2010

Crazy Times in Venice

'The Book of Unholy Mischief' 
By Elle Newmark

Format: Paperback
Published: Washington Square Press; Nov. 2009
Pages: 400

Synopsis: Luciano, the wily hero of Newmark's entertaining first novel, is only a street urchin when the doge of Venice's chef finds him, but once dragged into the kitchen as an apprentice, he discovers more bubbling than boiling water. While the town is in an uproar over the rumor of an ancient book containing magical potions and lessons on alchemy, Luciano pines away for a girl and learns the basics of chopping, sweeping and eavesdropping. As he and his maestro become friendlier, Luciano begins to learn that there's more to his teacher than a garden of strange plants and a box of spices. Newmark does a fine job of building suspense and keeping the novel barreling along, and her knowledge of and affection for 15th-century Venice adds charm to this nicely told adventure yarn. Copyright © Reed Business Information

My Take: I love it when books really take you to a time and a place. You never know when you pick up a book whether or not they will do this for you. Historical fiction, I think, has the biggest challenge with this because not only do they have to paint a picture of a scene for you but they have to take you back to a time and a place that you have never known. When a book does this well and can really take you there and take you out of the present it is something really magical and that is something my most recent read, 'The Book of Unholy Mischief' did a fantastic job of!

Newmark's book is set in the Venice, Italy of the 15th Century. I loved imagining what it might have been like to have lived back then while reading this. Maybe it was because I had just read another historical fiction book set in Italy, 'The Blind Contessa's New Machine' but I was all about being transported back to Italy again. Plus, I've actually been to Venice and found it to be one of the few places I've travelled that actually was in real life exactly how I imagined it would be so it was easy for me to imagine this one.

Another great aspect of description in this book was the food, and we all know that a great country for food is Italy! I mean, when you think of Italy you think food, right? Luciano our plucky hero is just a little street urchin trying to survive day to day when a chef, a maestro in the kitchen, grabs him from the dregs of living a horrible life not knowing where his next meal is to come from, to live and learn how to become a chef. How exciting for us because with Luciano's apprenticeship comes beautiful descriptions of dishes you wanted to eat right up. Did you know they used to call tomatoes 'love apples'? That cracked me up! They also thought they were poisonous but the chef could turn them into a 'love apple soup' that people would just eat up and who today doesn't love tomato soup? Ha!

At any rate, the crux of this story is that Venice is all a twitter about 'The Book of Unholy Mischief'. What is in the book? Who has the book? How can I get a hold of the book and if I do, will it give me eternal life, major riches, a love potion? Oh man, who wouldn't want this book if it could promise all this! The rich men have rewards out for anyone who can bring information on the book and Luciano wants to solve the mystery. It's a fun story that I could totally see being made into a movie! It was so vividly told!

(I received this book from Pump Up Your Book Tours)


  1. When a book can transport me to another time and place and I can get lost there while I am reading it, I know it's a good book!

  2. this books sounds amazing! it wasn't even on my radar before i read your review. i love it when i can get fully immersed in a book with it's vivid and detailed descriptions.

  3. Thank you for the lovely review and also for not making comparisons to The DaVinci Code. That has become my major pet peeve.

    Some reviewers have gotten stuck on the fact that there is a secret and somehow the church is involved. So what? In 1498, the church was involved in everything!

    The Book of Unholy Mischief is about a chef and his apprentice and the importance of passing on our accumulated knowledge. The story is couched in the sensuality of food metaphors and Renaissance Venice and everything MEANS something. It is NOT about a guy on a high speed chase who ends up in bed with his assistant. Geez...

    So, thanks,
    Elle Newmark


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