#64 ~ Devil Water

April 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, entertainment, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 8 Comments
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Cover for Devil Water

Devil Water by Anya Seton

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

When You Were Young” by The Killers

Devil Water tells the story of Charles Radclyffe and his daughter by a secret marriage, Jenny. Charles is the youngest brother of James Radclyffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater (I love saying and reading that name – I don’t know why). Shortly after Charles meets and becomes intimate with Jenny’s mother, Meg Snowden, James returns to England after living abroad with the Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. James adores his cousin James and longs for the day when James is formally recognized as the King of England. He quickly becomes Charles’ mentor effortlessly converted Charles as a Jacobitism. Jenny was conceived before James’ return. Her family on her mother’s side forced Charles into a marriage on fear of death. Despite this, he fell in love with Jenny the first time he saw her. It pained him more than he imagined when he was not allowed to be with his family.

It wasn’t until the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 that Jenny reenters his life. While preparing for the rebellion, Charles convinces Meg, his secret bride, to allow him to raise her in a manner more befitting Jenny’s station as a Radclyffe. While imprisoned and waiting death for high treason, he convinces Elizabeth Lee, and old flame, to take Jenny in and raise her in London. She is well liked and well cared for in the Lee household. She is thankful for the them and is blessed with a friend in Evelyn Byrd, the daughter of William Byrd of Virginia. Still, Jenny never feels as though she belongs anywhere. Even when Charles returns to take her to the continent to live with his new family, Jenny feels like an outsider. The only person with whom she feels at home is Rob Wilson, a young man who helped her family in Northumberland. When Rob is transported to Virginia for a criminal act he committed in order to save her life, Jenny jumps at the chance to travel with Evelyn to the Colonies.

Until picking up this novel, I knew almost nothing about the Jacobites or the political climate in England that created that rift. The most compelling portions of this novel revolved around James Radclyffe and his participation in The Fifteen. His decision to take up his sword and fight when he felt certain it would mean his own demise was powerful. Although he sensed the weakness in his cousin, he fought for the Stuarts and for his faith. His dedication, loyalty, and faith in both God and man makes him a strong character. It is easy to understand how his wife could fall apart after his execution.

I sincerely doubt that Brandon Flowers or any other member of The Killers has read Devil Water, but it was very interesting to revisit this song while I was reading this book. Jenny has a constant desire for a sense of home. A sense she only really had when she was a young girl in Northumberland. She finds some peace with Rob Wilson, but she is not complete without her father. This fight costs her dearly and the reader feels this as well. Because Rob and Charles are an ocean and an ideology apart, Jenny is never complete. Her romance with Rob never has the passion that was present another of Seton’s novels, The Winthrop Woman. This bothered me while reading the novel. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that it occurred to me that this distance between Rob and Jenny made sense. It’s not that the author could have made their relationship more compelling and did not. It’s that Jenny’s two halves could never be happily reconciled with one another.

Jenny is an unconventional heroine. She cannot escape her fate, but she faces life bravely and never loses her dignity. Perhaps this is the greatest gift she ever received from her father. I highly recommend this novel and plan to read all of Seton’s work.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#31 ~ Falling Angels

July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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angels.gif

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

This novel is setup in a compelling way. The story is told through the point of view of eleven (+/-) narrators. You have to delve into the agenda of each character in order to determine what really is happening and why Those agendas are prone to change as the character matures or makes life altering decisions. It took no time to get engrossed in the story and I can’t tell you how many times I skimmed through the pages to come in search of the next entry by one narrator or another.

The story revolves around two families roughly in the same socio-economic class, but with Maude’s family slightly higher than Lavinia’s. It is the shared love of the cemetery that brings these young girls together in friendship, much to the chagrin of their mothers. Maude’s mother, Kitty Coleman, is an educated woman who is disappointed in what life has to hold for her has caused her to neglect those in her life who love her. She feels that her life would be so much more had she not been required to get married. Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude Waterhouse, invests all too much of herself in her role as wife and mother. She would be no one if she did not have a husband, child, or house to care for. As time goes on, each mother is secretly grateful for the presence of the other child in their daughter’s life. Lavinia has all the flare and lust for life that Kitty wishes Maude had. Maude is down to earth and more reserved, the way that Gertrude wishes Lavinia was.

As they move toward adolescence, the cemetery is no longer enough to maintain the friendship. In fact, even the reasons why each girl enjoys going there separates them. Lavinia is ecstatic when an aunt passes away because it gives her the opportunity to practice and embrace the societal standards for mourning. Maude has no interest whatsoever in mourning traditions. Her interest in visiting the cemetery is practical. She wants to learn the ins and outs of burial and, most controversially, cremation. Maude becomes weary of Lavinia’s drama and conversely, Lavinia becomes bored with Maude’s practicality. As the girls’ friendship comes to a cross roads, Kitty becomes fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, pulling the girls and both families in with her. Their involvement in the historic suffrage march in London changes all of their forever.

In the end, I found the build up much more intense and interesting than the conclusion. Still, I enjoyed reading it. Even the most beautiful jigsaw puzzle is far more fun to put together than it is to look at.

#28 ~ The Queen’s Fool

June 7, 2007 at 2:26 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, My Life with Books, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 2 Comments
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The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

The magnificent and deeply satisfying way in which Innocent Traitor ended made it too tempting to continue on with the saga of the Tudor monarchy. Reading Veronica only intensified that temptation. I was not disappointed. The Queen’s Fool is the story of a young Jewish girl who took flight from Spain after her mother was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Hannah, an entirely fictional character, is no ordinary girl. She works hard and dresses as a boy to look the part of her father’s apprentice in London. She takes pride in her father’s book store and printing press. Still, the fear of being burned is never far away.

It is at her father’s shop in London where she comes in contact Lord Robert Dudley and his tutor, John Dee. When she sees a third person in their ranks, who, it was determined, must have been an angel, Dudley gets Hannah’s father’s permission to be bring her to the ailing Kind Edward as his holy fool. Thus, Hannah takes on Edward’s livery and enters court for the first time. Although he begged Hannah off on the King, Lord Robert wants her services to help him and his conspirators to best plan to take the throne from Lady Mary and keep England Protestant. When she is able to intuit the date of Edward’s death and that a woman named Jane (Lady Jane Grey) is to be queen, Robert sends her away from the King’s side and to stay with Lady Mary as his spy. Hannah is so enamored with Robert that she agrees. Perhaps it was because she has had to lead her life from one lie to another in order to keep herself alive, she found a way to keep her promise to Lord Robert while still remaining loyal to Lady Mary. She loves her the way in which a daughter loves a mother from the very first because Mary is gentle and kind to her.

And another...

And another...

It’s not until the noose tightens around all of England while Queen Mary burns as many heretics as she can find that Hannah’s love for being at court is trumped by her survival instincts. She is no longer safe now that the Queen is deeply depressed due to the state of her marriage and her kingdom. She blames her false pregnancy on God’s displeasure with England. Surely once the heretics are gone the Lord will shine down and provide an heir. It is nearly too late when she sends word to her father, who had moved to Calais with her betrothed husband, to come and take her to safety. Although young and not ready for life as a dutiful wife after living so many years in breaches and living like a lad, she does desire her husband Daniel. Although her mother and sisters-in-law highly disapprove of her, she tries her best to be a dutiful wife. Yet when the French attack Calais, she flees under the protection of Lord Dudley and finds herself once again meshed in the intrigue of the Tudor court.

I had a weird experience while reading this book. I read a paragraph and I felt deja vu wash over me. It was as if I had both read that same paragraph once before and that I had witnessed the scene with my own eyes. Spooky! If Queen Mary were alive to hear me even hint at feelings of reincarnation I’d be dry and crispy right now. You got to love those Tudors.

#21 ~ The Constant Princess

May 5, 2007 at 11:27 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion | 7 Comments
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The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

After reading both of her Boleyn books, I was very excited to read this book about Katherine of Aragon, even though it was out of chronological order so to speak. She was such a wonderful character seen through the eyes of Mary Boleyn. This book was good and provided some interesting insights on King Henry as a boy and young man. Still, I liked Katherine of Aragon much better from another person’s point of view. Her continuous references to herself as chosen and favored by God drove me nuts. It was very much in her character to believe that all that she wanted for her life were due to her. She was raised that way and that did appear to be the royal mindset of the day. It was very annoying to read. I would have loved to smack her silly.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book. It was well written and hard to put down. The scenes following the birth of Katherine and Henry’s son were beautiful. Of the three books I’ve read thus far, I could re-read those scenes over many times. Still, reading books about self-righteous people in the first person drive me to madness. King Henry had to start his downhill slide somewhere, right? How appropriate.

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