One thing you do when you discover a great book is to pass it along. Since you all were kind enough to recommend some great titles to me, I wanted to do the same by giving away one of the books from my Instant TBR. There were a bunch of great reads in that pile, but when I considered which book I most wanted to share, the one that kept shouting MeMeMe was the one by the author who earned a debut spot on my keeper shelf: The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark.
I've already reported on what I thought of the story, but there's a bit more to it than that. The writing is gorgeous and smart without being pretentious or overly-academic. I felt immersed in Luciano's world, which hasn't been around for 500+ years, and the author breathed life into the era without constant dropping history info dumps on my head. Everything was quite frankly presented -- even the most unsavory aspects of existing in fifteenth-century Venice -- but it never pushed me out of the story. It actually brought back some wonderful memories; every time Luciano and Chef Ferrero worked together in the kitchen, I was seventeen years old again and back in my mom's kitchen, watching my dad cook (if you're looking for more concrete details, PK posted an excellent overview of the story here.)
This novel also reminded me of what it once meant to create the physical book; the sort of art that is almost disappeared altogether from Publishing. It's a lovely book to see, from the gorgeous cover art to the unique end papers. Hardcovers today are mass-produced with cheap materials; most fall apart after only a few years (and I own 160-year-old books that are holding together better than hardcovers I bought ten years ago, so I'm watching this happen in my own collection.) I'm sure this one will be no different, but it gave the illusion of being a novel made by more caring hands, and that was a delightful little fantasy.
If you'd like a chance to check out Ms. Newmark's novel for yourself, in comments to this post, name an author or book you read only because a friend recommended it (or if you have very quiet friends, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, May 23, 2009. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.