Sunday, April 28, 2013

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

This is one of those stories where you feel that no one, no matter what the outcome, can come out the winner. A couple’s daughter is born with a rare disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which makes her bones so brittle that they break with the least exertion. Their obstetrician, who failed to diagnose the condition before the child was born, in time for them to consider terminating the pregnancy, is the wife’s best friend.

After they are arrested on a false charge of child abuse, because their daughter slips on a napkin and breaks both femurs during a Disneyland vacation, they obtain an attorney who suggests a wrongful birth suit, to sue their obstetrician/friend for money to provide for their daughter’s life-long special needs.

This book gives a realistic picture of a family under terrible strain, caring for a special needs child, their eldest daughter feels neglected, always overshadowed by her sister’s medical emergencies, and develops an eating disorder and starts cutting herself, and the lawsuit makes things even worse. It’s a case where a victory won’t mean a happy ending.

Though it may seem bizarrely out of place in this review, I would also like to mention that there are many delicious recipes included in this book. The mother in the story is an accomplished pastry chef who gave up her career and dreams of having her own bakery to care for her child.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Unfaithful Queen A Novel of Henry VIII's Fifth Wife by Carolly Erickson

The latest novel in Carolly Erickson’s series of “historical entertainments” tells the story of the teenage girl who became the wife of Henry VIII in his declining years. Pretty, vivacious, auburn-haired Catherine Howard had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) to catch the ailing, impotent monarch’s jaded eye. But, we learn, it was not just Catherine’s beauty and personality that attracted Henry’s fickle attention, but her strong resemblance to her mother, Jocasta, the beloved mistress of Henry’s youth who died in childbirth.

Unbeknownst to Henry, Catherine hadn’t led a very chaste life. By the time Henry’s eye lighted on her, she had already been involved with three men—her music master, Henry Manox, a handsome young adventurer and her handfasted husband, Francis Dereham, and her cousin, the true love of her life, Thomas Culpepper, whom she planned to marry after the King died.

When Catherine fails to conceive, she resumes her affair with Culpepper, hoping by this desperate, deceitful measure to provide a spare heir to share the royal nursery with the ailing Edward VI.  But, of course, the truth comes out, and Catherine and her lovers, past and present, find themselves facing a rendezvous with the headsman, just like Catherine’s late cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn, and her alleged lovers.

Ms. Erickson’s fanciful novels are always fun, fast, light reads for those who can get past the numerous, sometimes wildly outlandish, liberties they take with known historical facts, and this one follows true to form. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Devil Water by Anya Seton

The novels of Anya Seton have a special spot in my heart. GREEN DARKNESS, still one of my all-time favorites to this day, was one of the first adult novels as well as one of the first historical fiction novels I ever read. And this sprawling eighteenth century epic journeying from London to Colonial America does not disappoint and more than earns its place as a keeper on the shelf alongside GREEN DARKNESS.

Spanning 1709-1746 DEVIL WATER is the story of Charles Radcliffe, his secret daughter Jenny, and the doomed Jacobite cause which attempted to oust the Hanoverians from the throne of England and restore the deposed Stuarts.

As a bored young nobleman, a younger son of the Earl of Derwentwater, Charles rides aimlessly over the Northumberland countryside, inspecting the local coal mines and just looking for something fun to do. He seduces a young servant girl named Meg. But her family doesn’t take it meekly and abducts Charles and forces him to marry Meg just in time for her to give birth to their child—Jenny. Whereupon Charles is cast out; Meg and her family want nothing further to do with him.

This forced marriage costs Charles a love match with his cousin Lady Betty Lee, and in the years to come, denied the normal comforts of hearth and home, he becomes a rake, spending lavishly, keeping a retinue of actresses as mistresses, until boredom sets in and he goes on to the next and then the next. In 1715 he and his brother join the ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion and end in prison. James, a fervent Catholic and devoted family man, becomes a martyr to the cause, and Charles, awaiting execution in Newgate, cleverly escapes.

Before he goes into hiding, he arranges for Jenny to be reared as a lady by his old love, Lady Betty Lee. She attends an exclusive girl’s school in London and becomes friends with Evelyn Byrd—a name I know well from books of ghost stories; her lovelorn spirit is said to haunt her family’s plantation. And in this novel we get a front row seat to the doomed romance and parental disapproval that led to the unhappy girl’s spirit becoming earthbound, though the haunting is never mentioned in this novel.

After Robbie, the proud man Jenny loves who worked his way up from pit boy in the coal mines of Newcastle to master builder, saves her from being a virgin victim of the satanic debauchery of the Hellfire Club and is deported to America as a bond slave, Jenny follows him to the New World. With Evelyn’s assistance, she buys her lover’s freedom and they carve out a new life for themselves in the Virginia wilderness.

But the past intrudes on their happiness when, after twenty years of silence, Jenny’s father reaches out to her. After throwing in his lot with Bonnie Prince Charlie he ends in the Tower, facing a death sentence, and asks Jenny to come and be a comfort to him, thus driving a stake into the heart of her happy marriage and forcing Jenny to choose between her husband and her father.

I could not put this novel down, though I was supposed to be working on my own, it kept pulling me back to it. I think I had better stay away from Anya Seton’s books until I meet my own deadline then I’ll treat myself to another.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Sometimes Daughter by Sherri Wood Emmons

 Judy Webster was born in a mud-spattered tent at Woodstock in 1969 as Crosby, Stills, and Nash played “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Her mother, Cassie, was a beautiful flower child, all about making love and not war. She baked pot brownies, embraced free love, nudity, interracial relationships, and carted her baby around to countless parties and protests. When Judy’s father, Kirk, abandoned this Bohemian lifestyle to pursue a law career and give his family a life of stability, the marriage crumbled.  “You’ve sold out to the man!” Cassie screamed when she beheld Kirk’s new clean-cut look—short hair and goodbye scraggly beard.

When Cassie fled to a Kentucky commune with Judy that was the last straw. Kirk won full custody and for the next several years Cassie would drift in and out of her daughter’s life, giving her a real scare when it was suspected that Cassie might be among the dead in Guyana after the mass suicide of Jim Jones’ followers.

As she grows up, Judy struggles to make sense of it all, to accept her absent mother and love her as she is, and come to terms with her father’s new relationship. She also confronts her own wild side that lead her to experiment with drugs and sex at a young age.

I thought this was a fascinating and well written coming of age story. It did a wonderful job of showing what it must have been like for children born in the 1960s and 1970s who must have had to really face this situation, where one parents wants to stay rooted in their flower child past while the other wants to grow up on go forward leaving their child caught in between.

Sherri Wood Emmons is also the author of PRAYERS AND LIES, which is currently waiting for me in one of my towering “To Read” stacks. I hope to get to it sometime in the near future. I will also be waiting and watching to see what this talented storyteller writes next.