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Much mirth may be found in Mischief
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‘The Book of Unholy Mischief’
By: Elle Newmark
Price: $15 (paperback)
Rating: Four out of five bookmarks)

I have always had a great respect for teachers. The reason I love reading and writing today was because I had good teachers when I was growing up — educators who exposed me to many different kinds of books and taught me the beauty of language and imagination.

Now, when I talk to others or research articles, I still love to learn from others who are truly passionate about what they do. The novel I am reviewing today unfolds a tale that is a wonderful example of the close bond that a student and teacher can have, and shows us knowledge truly is the most valuable gift, more than money or even immortality.

"The Book of Unholy Mischief" by Elle Newmark is set in Venice during the dawn of the Renaissance, 1498. It is told through the eyes of Luciano, a street orphan who, while stealing a pomegranate one day in the market, is caught red handed by the master chef of the doge’s palace.

But the kindhearted cook takes in Luciano and makes him his apprentice. There the orphan gradually learns about cooking and responsibility, while also discovering the conspiracies behind the authoritative figures who visit the palace.

At the center of the social and political tension of Italy is the rumor of an infamous book that may hold the secrets to everyone’s greatest desires. Luciano’s own passions, particularly to win the heart of a young nun named Francesca, drive him to find out about the book as well. After witnessing a murder in the doge’s dining room, supposedly tied to the book, Luciano finds himself caught up in a tapestry of secrets and being pulled deeper into a mystery that has lasted for ages. His true character is tested as he must decide whether to pursue his own wishes at the expense of others, or to uphold a clandestine tradition for the sake of his beloved mentor.

Elle Newmark has a captivating voice in her writing, and she beautifully illustrates a glamorous but decadent Venice full of colorful characters, showing the reader both the strong and weak sides of every person. Luciano has to contend with both his mischievous, selfish side, and his honorable, honest half. He has been thrust into a world beyond his understanding; he grew up on the streets where he had to fend for himself and trust no one. The enigmatic Chef Ferrero changes his thinking around, often confusing Luciano but allowing the boy to learn his life lessons in his own time.

Chef Ferrero is one of the more intriguing characters I have read in a story lately, a passionate, charismatic man who while his motives are not always known, has learned from his past experiences and wishes to share his knowledge with those who will believe in its worth.

There were some similar themes as that to Dan Brown’s "Da Vinci Code," and "Unholy Mischief" captures the same thriller tension in the second half of the book, as well as presents theories that were meant to be kept "secret," because they are contradictory to typical Catholic religious teachings. It doesn’t go into as great depth as "Da Vinci" about its "secrets," but this is not so much the focal point of the story as dissecting the mysteries behind each character.

The author notes that while her story may not always be historically accurate, her main goal was to tell a good tale. I believe she did that and more, and I recommend this story to anyone who has the love for teaching, learning, or both.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.

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