Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last One of 2014

The Jewel is the first in a new series by Amy Ewing, and it's a promising beginning. Set in a society where the royalty is a bunch of pampered elitists who cannot bear children of their own, Violet is a surrogate who is expected to give birth for the royal woman who purchases her at an Auction. Violet has no say in her fate; she was chosen after "passing" a blood test at age twelve, taken forcibly from her home and made to live in a holding facility for four years, and at age sixteen, she has been prepped for her role in life. Purchased by the cold Duchess of the Lake, Violet lives in dread of the time when she will be impregnated with the Duchess's baby and forced to carry her child. Even though she lives in luxury during her time with the Duchess, she is at the command and whim of her ladyship, knowing that once her mission is accomplished, she will be sterilized and sent to live in a holding community for the rest of her life, never to marry or see her family again. To say Violet is dissatisfied is an understatement.

Told through Violet's eyes, we see the humiliation she endures, and the desperation she feels at her fate. But more than this, there's a sense of loss--Violet is only sixteen, and her life will be over within the year when she successfully bears a child. Not only is the Duchess cruel, she's almost fanatic, and her reasons for choosing Violet are only for what Violet could bring to a potential child; the Duchess's first child, a nineteen-year-old son named Garnet, has been a tremendous letdown and she will not stand for that happening again. But there's so much more going on: Violet's best friend, also a surrogate, seems to be being grossly mistreated by her mistress, a murder takes place, and there's the presence of a male "companion" for the Duchess's niece, a young man named Ash whom Violet almost immediately falls for. But when a way out of her situation is offered, Violet has to decide if it's worth the risk and if she can give up her new romance.

Violet is immature in her actions at times, but very sincere in her beliefs. She is also loyal and assertive, to the point that she endures cruel punishments from a woman who seems a bit unbalanced in a society that devalues all life except their own. I never really bought into the "romance" between Violet and Ash because it seems pretty superficial and I sense there's something else going on with Ash (who seems to have no problem with Violet risking everything to be with him and expects her to understand his "work"). There's a physical aspect there that normally wouldn't bug me (and does add an additional twist to the story) but it just sort of reinforced my opinion that Violet is immature in her decisions. That same reinforcement exists in her relationship with Lucien, a lady-in-waiting who has chosen to help Violet out of her situation, but really strikes me as more of a bad guy in the long run (and I may end up being mistaken!). But if I keep in mind that yes, Violet has been sheltered and is now in an untenable place with a guy who is showing her attention for herself, I can understand the directions the author is taking and run with it. Less clear to me is the existence of the Augeries, a sort of forced selection ability the surrogates are trained to use which causes them pain and bleeding. We'll see where that plot point takes us.

I really enjoyed this story and the author's writing style pulled me in quickly. In fact, I fell victim to the "one more page" syndrome and ended up staying up much later than I'd planned just to see what was going to happen. When that occurs, I know I've got a winner on my hands. I am already anticipating the next entry in the series!


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Winter Crown

The Winter Crown picks up where The Summer Queen left off--Eleanor of Aquitaine has married Henry of Anjou, soon to be Henry II of England after receiving an annulment of her marriage with Louis of France. Far from being the glittering experience of co-rule Eleanor may have envisioned, she soon finds herself almost continuously pregnant as Henry takes care of his vast domains. Eleanor is never shy and retiring, however, and even with her numerous children, she gives Henry a run for his money in both personality and politics. What could have been a time of her life that would be easily glossed over comes alive in the capable storytelling hands of Elizabeth Chadwick; she brings Eleanor's determination, heartbreak, and haughtiness to life in ways that will have you cheering her on even when she could possibly be wrong.

I was absolutely swept away into Eleanor's world with The Winter Crown. The relationship between Eleanor and Henry is fraught with temper, both good and bad; you can feel the sparks fly whenever they are together, yet I never got the sense that Eleanor particularly liked Henry except for what he could bring her...and vice versa. Still, when his affair with Rosamund de Clifford is revealed, I could feel the humiliation and despair Eleanor tried to hide; even when she treated him horribly, I could still empathize with her. More moving, though, is the emotion Eleanor had to swallow at the early loss of her daughters to marriages for alliances; it's not something that is often discussed, being seen as a trial women and children had to endure during the era. Add in the violent times, including the death of Thomas Beckett, and the degeneration of the relationship between not only Eleanor and Henry, but between Henry and their sons, and you have a story that makes fact read like fiction in the best ways possible.

Whenever I read anything by Elizabeth Chadwick, I'm reminded that there are few historical fiction authors who can transport you into the times quite as thoroughly and as seamlessly as she does. Eleanor being one of my personal heroines, I'm particularly pleased with how she is displayed in The Winter Crown: she's a real person, capable of both subterfuge and assertiveness, but with a human side that translates across the centuries. With the end of The Winter Crown, I'm left hanging and waiting on The Autumn Throne. I feel confident that I will love the close of Eleanor's story as much as I have the first two thirds.



Who hasn't wondered what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge after the Christmas of his Reclamation? Though Dickens gives us the slightest glimpse by telling us he was as good as his word, I know I've wanted to know just what occurred. Did he never lose his temper again? Did his business thrive? With this novel, Scrooge: The Year After, author Judy La Salle fills in the blanks rather well while staying true to the era and the themes of the original.

I purposely chose to read this novel at Christmas because,'s originally a Christmas tale. This novel is set in November/December of 1844, the year after Marley's nocturnal visit and that of his three ghostly friends. To all accounts, Scrooge has been doing precisely what he said he would: giving to the poor, making friends, and keeping Christmas in his heart all the days. He has gone into business with his nephew, Fred, and is enjoying life. Until, that is, his business is broken into, and then a lady friend begins questioning the death of Scrooge's sister, Fan, twenty years prior. Scrooge becomes determined to find out what really happened when Fan passed, and delves into old letters and interviews with those who were there (which Scrooge, of course, was not, already having succumbed to the lure of the dollar). This marks the time when Scrooge becomes an amateur sleuth, equally afraid of knowing and not knowing the dark details of the loss of his sister.

La Salle does a remarkable job of staying true to the era and the language of the original A Christmas Carol. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but Scrooge as detective wasn't what I thought it would be. However, the story is so well written that I found myself caught up in the drama of Fan's death and wanting Scrooge to learn more quickly what occurred. I cheered him on with every revelation, wanting him to stay true to his new nature and find success in all areas of his life. There is a side bit of a long ago gamble that doesn't really add much to the overall story, but it does provide a bit of a red herring for Scrooge as he seeks the answers he needs.

This is a very enjoyable novel, and I'm pleased that La Salle helped answer a few questions I had as well as drawing me into the times so fully. I wonder if there's a possibility of more of Scrooge's tale? I know I'd love to see what happens between he and Mrs. Langstone! Full of depth and intrigue, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this What If story.