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The Book of Unholy Mischief
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The Book of Unholy Mischief

4.0 27
by Elle Newmark, Nancy Singer (Designed by)

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In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth?

It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist's dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the


In a world of violence and intrigue, who guards the truth?

It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist's dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it.

As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic that grew from the sea, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef's rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets.

Luciano's loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he's come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity,

Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth. What he discovers will swing open the shutters of his mind, inflame his deepest desires, and leave an indelible mark on his soul.

Rich with the luxurious colors and textures of Venice, The Book ofUnholy Mischief delights the senses and breathes fresh life into an age defined by intellectual revival and artistic vibrancy. A luminous and seductive novel, it is, at its heart, a high-spirited tribute to the fruits of knowledge and the extraordinary power of those who hold its key. In a world of violence an d in trigue, who guards the truth?

Editorial Reviews

Clare Clark
What Newmark does bring to the novel…is a richness of atmosphere…It's clear that her interest lies more in place than chase, and there are some wonderful set pieces that bring the city sparklingly to life…So The Book of Unholy Mischief turns out to be an unexpected hybrid, a highly flavored and faintly preposterous romp that is also a meditation on food, ideas and the importance of keeping hold of the principles of free thought in a world oppressed by censorship.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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. (Dec.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In Renaissance Venice, Luciano is a starving orphan until Maestro Ferrero, master chef to the doge, plucks him off the street and makes him his apprentice. Bright but wary of his incredible luck, Luciano spies on everyone and everything in the palace. When he sees the doge poison a peasant he has invited to his table, Luciano is shocked but determined to find out more. He learns that the doge (and many of the most powerful men in Italy) is searching for a book that contains formulas for alchemy and potions for love and immortality. Luciano feels the need to find the book but is torn among his respect for his maestro, his love for Francesca (a beautiful novitiate he meets in the market), and loyalty to his best friend from the streets, Marco. If Luciano succeeds, whom will he honor with the prize? Newmark uses great historical detail and marvelous descriptions of food to make this debut historical novel come alive. Recommended for all libraries with historical fiction collections. [Originally self-published, this title won the iUniverse Editor's Choice Award and drew the attention of agents and publishers when the author threw herself an online book party.-Ed.]
—Anna Nelson

Product Details

Washington Square Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Book of Unholy Mischief

My name is Luciano — just Luciano. I'm Venetian by birth, old now and chained to my memories, compelled to return, link by link, seeking clarity.

There's a matter about which I am sworn to secrecy, but times have changed since I took my oath. In my lifetime, I've witnessed man's emergence from centuries of darkness. Great thinkers have unlocked our minds, and great artists have opened our eyes and our hearts. Some are calling it a renaissance — a rebirth — and it will reverberate far into the future because of a miraculous new invention called the printing press. Perhaps, now, it would be a disservice to the advancement of knowledge to remain silent. Perhaps the pendulum has swung a full arc, and the time has come for me to speak. If I proceed with caution...well, those who have ears, let them hear.

The intrigue took place in my youth, when I served as an apprentice to the doge's chef in Venice. I first suspected some unholy mischief when the doge invited an uncouth peasant to dine with him in the palace. In the time-honored tradition of servants everywhere, I assumed my post behind the slightly open service door to the dining room in order to spy, and I marveled at the sight of them together: The doge, chief magistrate of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, gracious and bejeweled, sat with his guest, a bewildered paesano with calloused hands, dirt under his fingernails, and unwashed hair that had been hastily wetted and pushed off his face to show respect.

The meal began with clear calf's-foot broth served in shallow porcelain bowls so fine as to appear translucent in candlelight. The peasantoffered the serving maid a sheepish smile and murmured, "Grazie, signora." His rough voice clashed with his meek demeanor.

She snorted at his ignorance — the absurdity of thanking a serving maid — then bowed to the doge and took her leave. Out on the landing, with me, she mumbled, "I hope that dumb contadino enjoys his free meal. The doge is up to no good." She shrugged and went down to the kitchen for the next course, but she needn't have bothered.

The peasant stared into his soup bowl like a Circassian studying tea leaves. Having come from his world myself, I could read his mind: Surely, here in the palace, soup should not be gulped from the bowl as it was in his own dirt-floor kitchen. How should he proceed?

When the doge selected a large spoon from an array of filigreed silverware beside his plate, the peasant did the same. The shabby guest attempted to slide the soup silently into his mouth from the edge of the spoon, as the doge did, but gaps in his rotted teeth caused a loud, sibilant slurping. The man's bristled face reddened, and he laid his spoon down in defeat.

The doge appeared not to notice. He smiled — a glimpse of gold winking from the back of his mouth — and generously filled a silver goblet with his private stock of Valpolicella, a dark red wine with a floral bouquet and bittersweet aftertaste. With a hospitable tilt of his head, the doge said, "Per favore, signore," and offered the goblet to his chastened dinner companion.

The poor man smiled timidly and wrapped two meaty hands around the goblet. He tried to drink his wine slowly, soundlessly, and this self-conscious attempt at delicacy allowed the wine to saturate his senses. Unaccustomed to such complexity of flavor, he drank the goblet down and finished with a lusty smacking of his lips. Flush with pleasure, he carefully placed his empty goblet on the lace tablecloth and turned to offer his thanks to the doge, but...Marrone!

The man's smile twisted into a grimace. His forehead knotted like a ginger root, and he clawed at his throat. While he choked and struggled, his eyes spilled shock and confusion. He fell sideways off his needlework seat and tumbled headfirst onto the Turkish carpet with an inelegant thunk. His eyes glazed over with a dead man's stare.

The doge, a feeble, syphilitic old man, dabbed the corners of his mouth with a linen napkin, then heaved his royal personage off the chair. He steadied himself on the table edge with one liver-spotted hand, knelt over the corpse, and reached into the folds of his robe to bring forth a vial of amber liquid. He pried open the dead man's mouth, tipped the vial to lips already turning blue, and carefully dribbled in his elixir.

With a grunt of disgust, the doge poked his finger into the fetid mouth, pressing on the tongue to make sure the fluid trickled down the dead man's throat. When the vial was empty, the doge released the sigh of a man who has completed a small but unpleasant task. He pulled out the lemon-scented handkerchief he always kept tucked in his sleeve, wiped his hands, and then pressed the handkerchief to his nose. He inhaled deeply, clearly relieved to be able, finally, to counter the peasant's stench.

The doge, clad in his cumbersome brocades and with his handkerchief pressed firmly to his nose, sat back in his chair and watched the corpse with small, critical eyes. Absently, he adjusted his sly red cap so that the blunt peak at the back stood up, like a middle finger pointed at God.

Copyright © 2008 by Elle Newmark, Inc.

Meet the Author

Elle Newmark is the acclaimed author of The Book of Unholy Mischief. She lived and worked in the hills north of San Diego.

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Book of Unholy Mischief 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
The Book of Unholy Mischief is a fast-paced romp through the streets of Venice. The story follows Luciano, a penniless orphan, trying to survive on the streets in 1498. When he suddenly lucks into a position as apprentice to the palace's chef he thinks he has it made. But soon strange things begin to happen and rumors of a mysterious book with powerful secrets surface. To protect his job and his life Luciano will have to uncover the truth and decide between wealth or knowledge.
I listened to this book on audio and the thrilling story line held my attention. I especially loved the descriptions of food and the exotic dishes with (very!) unusual ingredients created by the chef. Luciano's attempts at perfecting a particular recipe were quite amusing, Parts of the book were reminiscent of Like Water for Chocolate with the implication that food can alter the emotions, giving the chef power over the diner.
The Book of Unholy Mischief also includes a lot of political history of Venice that was interesting. There were several groups at that time vying for power and their methods were sometimes extreme!
Overall this is a very enjoyable and entertaining audio book. The reader does a good job differentiating between the various characters and with maintaining the excitement inherent in the plot.
MaryFagan More than 1 year ago
Elle Newmark immerses us in 16th century Venice with lush and vivid detail. We live history through the eyes of an urchin named Luciano who, seemingly by pure chance, is plucked from the streets by the head chef of the lavish Doges Palace. But just as we are about to lose ourselves in a particularly exquisite entrée, we are caught up in a vicious search for a book of alchemy, said to contain the secrets of wealth, power, and life itself. Tension builds as we find that this coveted book has a curious connection to the palace kitchen. Beautifully and cleverly descriptive, the story twists, turns, and finally emerges as a lasting testament to wisdom and truth.
NancyAnn More than 1 year ago
Whether you seek a good read to escape the humdrum of daily life, an exciting intrigue that explores the mysteries of Venice in the Renaissance, or a searing insight into the power struggles of politics and religion, you will LOVE The Book of Unholy Mischief. From the moment the chef, a philosophical giant who uses food to reveal meaning, snatches his young apprentice from the streets of Venice to the concluding scenes of betrayal and loss this book will enchant the reader. It plays upon all the reader's senses, yielding a delightful escape into a world now lost.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this story is actually very simple, it is still a page-turner and has several ideas in it that can lead you to think. To compare it to some famous things -- Michael Crichton and Alexander Dumas always told great stories, but the prose was pretty weak. Newmark's story and pacing remind me of those authors, but with the advantage that her prose is not so simplistic, and the story is actually saying something. I've read a couple criticisms of the book and honestly I think some people are missing the point. For one thing, everyone appears to want to compare it to the Da Vinci Code. That was a great ride, but with very little in the way of thought-provocation. Sure, it was controversial, but that's sort of an easy way to get attention isn't it? This story, despite commentary on the politics of the early Catholic church, is not trying to be about the Bible, the Church or conspiracy theories. So people see some superficial similarities and then complain that it's not exactly like the Code. One of the prominent themes of the book is that we see what we want to see. The Chef wants to find his son, the boy wants the girl to love him, the Doge wants to believe in immortality, etc, and it is the combination of all their perceptions (as opposed to reality) that set things in motion. No contrived devices here, no attempts to shock -- human nature sets a chase in motion. Trying to find da Vinci Code analogs will fail, because this is a much more subtle story, and so that criticism just really irks me. Another thing is that some people love the prose, and others complain it's too flowery. Well, we like what we like, so just be aware that Newmark describes things with flavor. Again, not Crichton or Dumas -- they wanted you breathlessly looking for the next Event, and that's great storytelling. The art here is that you are eager to see the story unfold, but Newmark takes the time to set tone and create a place. If you haven't equal patience for reading that she has for writing, you might not like it, but is that a fair criticism of the book? The protagonist is very young; this is perhaps my only problem with the story. On the one hand it's realistic for the time period, but for the purposes of this story, it means our protagonist displays all the completely boneheaded decision making skills of many adolescents in the throes of self-doubt and lust. As an adult, you're dying to throttle some sense into the kid. Again -- realistic, but I do like my heroes to have a little life savvy. But overall, really, this is a great book -- it's fun to read, but gives you some things to think about; it offers some political and perhaps religious commentary, but not with an eye towards offending; the story keeps you turning pages, and the prose gives you a gorgeous sense of Venice at its height, but it's not going to require you have an encyclopedia handy (Eco, anyone?). Unless you really prefer escapist pulp -- nothing wrong with that, but this isn't Jurassic Venice -- you're almost guaranteed to like this book. (Even my husband, who never reads fiction, couldn't put it down. And he also wanted to throttle the kid.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Elle Newmart's writing style. The charactors really came to life! You can tell the author did her homework on the time period and setting. I can't wait for her next book.
nhofley More than 1 year ago
I chose this book as my choice for a book club read. The jacket read as if it would be thrilling and mysterious. I was really let down by the end. There were so many chances the author had to make this an awesome read, but all of those chances she chose to skim over the plot and not go into as much detail as I was hoping for. It was a decent read, and it brought out a lot of conversation for my book club..which I guess is one point of a book.
Sensitivemuse More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. It certainly took me a while to get into it. The first few chapters where Luciano's story was told did certainly help the pace quicken a bit but I noticed while reading this, it's a very relaxing slow read. It's not a book where you're not quite immediately thrown into the whirlwind. What does help is if the reader is interested in cooking, and in history, then this book won't be a big issue. Those not interested in those two subjects might have trouble getting interested in the plot. The intrigue is fed to you in little morsels (as if it's food). Food and the underlying intrigue go hand in hand in this novel but you'll encounter rich descriptions on food and its smells, taste, and texture. I don't mind these descriptions, in fact not only does it succeed in making me hungry, it's so well written you can actually taste the food being described. I only wish there were recipes handy to go along with the book! Now, about intrigue. It's well done, even though you don't get much of it until near the end of the book. However when it is presented it's done so it still manages to get your attention and it packs a punch at the end. The last half of the novel really flew by for me as I was really caught up by the action and mystery. I also thought the use of food and having certain political sympathies really did go well hand in hand, and perhaps it's a very interesting twist on a job as a Chef in a political household. The ending provided a good sense of satisfaction. I would call it bittersweet because some of the outcome of the characters wasn't what I hoped to be. As for the characters, Luciano was fun to read. He has his dumb moments where you feel like smacking him in the face, but I really like his loyalty. It was an admirable trait and although difficult to maintain, he really stuck by it. As to Marco, I thought his outcome was a little harsh for his actions, and although I thought he was a little weasel, I'm not sure he entirely deserved what he got. I thought Francesca was a greedy ambitious tart, but I liked her ending. It was certainly well deserved and well suited for her. Also, of course, I loved Bernardo and Luciano's relationship. Who says cats can't be faithful companions? I wouldn't recommend this book to those that are not into a slow relaxing pace, it's certainly a book that's meant to be slowly savoured and enjoyed a little at a time. However those that want something to do with the art of cooking with a bit of history and intrigue on the side would certainly love this beautifully descriptive novel.
LHedgpeth More than 1 year ago
If you are a reader that is looking for a fast-paced, quick to it book, The Book of Unholy Mischief is not for you. If, however, you are looking for a book that simmers slowly, builds with an exotic, leisurely scent of savory spices and peels back, layer after layer, as a succulent orange or oversized onion does, you won't be disappointed by this visual masterpiece. I loved the colorful depictions of Venice in the late fifteenth century. So vivid was author Elle Newmark's writing and characterizations, even after finishing the book, I can still easily visualize Venice in my mind and the wonderfully written Luciano and Chef Ferraro. I can feel the squalor and grime under my feet of the poorer calles that Luciano strolled and can sense the aromatic herbs from Chef Ferraro's private closet. I can feel Bernardo rubbing my leg with his head, feel his purrs and smell his wet fur, as well as hear the various cries coming from the street merchants, the sailors and the prostitutes. That alone would make The Book of Unholy Mischief a worthy and fantastic read. After all, aren't the best writers capable of allowing their readers to not only see in their mind's eye the location and the characters but to hear and even smell the story? Ms. Newmark allows the reader to use all his or her senses and to a fabulous extent. But let's not shortchange the story which, if you allow it time to build, is phenomenal on its own. Historical fiction lovers will delight not only in the day to day accounts of Renaissance Venice but also with the mystery surrounding the infamous book of the title, which not only supposedly holds the key to immortal life, wealth and riches but brings about grief, death, murder and ties to Jesus' crucifixtion and resurrection. Readers who prefer their books with little or no objectionable language and sexual situations will be satisfied with The Book of Unholy Mischief as there are only brief descriptions of slight violence, mostly relative to street living, and one torture scene. The Book of Unholy Mischief was a fascinating read and has stayed with me, even after turning that last page and closing the book. I felt vested in the characters, so much so that I experienced both joy and sadness throughout the book and into its conclusion. The mystery over the book built slowly and paid off greatly in the end. Portions of the book dealing with cooking and succulent descriptions of food will leave your mouth watering and your stomach rumbling. And on a purely shallow note, the cover is subtle, understated and yet still luscious and inviting. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Book of Unholy Mischief to one and all and I would love to see this flavorful story on a movie or t.v. screen, as I do think the story would certainly be justified on film.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Great book, with vivid descriptions of Venice in its opulent heyday. The characters are likeable and the action moves along briskly. In addition, descriptions of the kitchens and mouth-watering foods of the time are worth the read!
MairL More than 1 year ago
Using the current fascination with secret societies ala "The DaVinci Code" and the Masons, and food, the authors wrote a fun book set in early Renaissance years. The protagonist is a young street urchin with potential, chosen to carry on a legacy of protecting unfashionable, even heretical, information under the guise of recipes. A good read for a gloomy weekend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kiko1021 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this novel that takes place in 15th century Venice, especially how it brought to life the colors, scents, and sounds of the city. The novel focuses on the life of a teenage boy named Luciano, who is arbitrarily selected to become an apprentice to a master chef. The plot revolves around a secret book, the adventures of Luciano, and the dynamics between knowledge, power, and wisdom. It includes fantastic food descriptions and metaphors as well. Also, the plot dynamics that are involved may offend some orthodox Christians but will delight others, especially fans of the Dan Brown genre. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book.
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katknit More than 1 year ago
Venice in the early Renaissance was a perilous in the extreme. Innocent or guilty, prominent or poverty stricken, an individual could be destroyed in the blink of an eye, if it suited the aims of the politically powerful. The age of scientific enlightenment was dawning, but superstition and ¿heresy¿ still abounded under the iron rule of the church. Luciano, a street urchin, is offered a rare opportunity to transform his life by the chef of the doge, who is not merely a culinary master. Chef Ferraro is one of the Guardians, a network of educated men who are living and dying to preserve priceless knowledge that church and government are eager to obliterate. Together, Ferraro and Luciano undertake the perilous task of preserving this knowledge and denying it to the autocrats.

The Book of Unholy Mischief is chock full of mystery, intrigue, hope, and violence. It is also an argument for ¿free thinking¿, in such a way that the religious sensibilities of some readers will be offended. Those who can approach it with open mind will discover much to enjoy: vivid characters, food for thought, great atmosphere and period detail, an appreciation for humanistic values. Life in the kitchen of the doge¿s palace is portrayed so expressively that the mouth waters. While the plot sometimes loses its tension, its underlying message, that true magic lies not in sorcery but in learning, is beautifully conveyed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written and delightful to read.
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