Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, October 11, 2015

An Historical Winner

Marguerite de Valois is one of history's shadowy figures who truly deserves to be brought into the light and given a voice of her own. In Sophie Perinot's new historical novel, we discover a young woman with a backbone as strong as her formidable mother's, and an ability to matter in a way females often couldn't during the 1500s.

Starting from her late childhood, we are introduced to Marguerite as she watches her mother, Catherine de Medicis, and her older brother, Charles, rule Catholic France with an iron hand. Marguerite dreams of the day she will be able to join Court and fulfill her destiny to marry well, and when she is twelve, she is finally given the opportunity. Quickly making lifelong friends with two young women, and basking in the adoration of both her brother the king and her brother, the Duc de Anjou, Margot is the center of attention for everyone except her mother. Her eye falls on the young Duc de Lorraine and the two scheme ways to be together until everything comes crashing down and Margot finds herself back on the fringes of her family, forced to do their bidding and marry where they say.

Perinot has done her research and it shows in her grasp of characters and events. Marguerite is no shy, retiring flower, despite her lack of acknowledgement by other authors; she continually is shown to know her own mind and manipulate events as best she can in a time when most women weren't thought capable of such. Among the flamboyant figures of the day, Margot was able carry on a love affair and save her husband's life, despite her mother's machinations. Not that everything she did was perfect or even heroic; Perinot captures the desperation of a young girl's determination during a tumultuous period of her life and also in France's history.

Be prepared as you go in to understand that the role of religion not only shaped Margot but all of life, and that the de Valois family had their own personal demons to wrestle. At least one of Perinot's interpretations of what happened among the family may raise some eyebrows, but as addressed in the author's notes, it makes sense. Also, this is not really a young adult novel, even though most of the novel finds Margot in her teens. In the 1500s, many people were married in their early teens, and few were naive about relationships. Margot, while sheltered to some degree, soon finds her own sexuality, as do most of the cast of characters. The subject matter, however, is more about the historical context and Margot's place in it than it is about prurient interests. In that, Perinot excels. I could picture scenes and situations perfectly through her exquisite writing, and I'm very hopeful we have not heard the last of Marguerite from Perinot. Bump this one up to the top of your To Read Next pile. It's an absorbing winner.


Saturday, October 03, 2015

Nine Lives: A Lily Dale Mystery

I admit that I hadn't read others in this Lily Dale series before picking up Nine Lives, but apparently that's not a necessity, luckily for me. The premise sounded good and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to give it a go. And all in all, I'm glad I did.

This is the story of Bella, whose husband Sam has passed away, leaving she and her young son at loose ends. When she's laid off from her teaching job, she feels her only option is to move from New York to Chicago to live with her cold, disapproving mother-in-law. But along the way, her car breaks down in Lily Dale. Yes, THE Lily Dale, home to psychics and mediums, but Bella is at its mercy for a place to stay. Somehow she finds herself in a bed and breakfast, filling in for the owner, who has recently passed away herself. But the kindliness of the townspeople and the appearance of a very pregnant cat--which may or may not have shown up at Bella's former home days earlier--keep Bella and Max in the town while her car is repaired. It sounds like a good thing, but there are some decidedly odd events going on, and Bella becomes certain that Leona, the previous owner, was murdered. Will she and Max be safe here, even for a few days.

There's a lot to like in this story. Bella's determination to get on with her life despite her losses makes her easily sympathetic and Chance the Cat is a good anchor for the home and for both Bella and Max. There are some very odd people in Lily Dale, but most are believably written, especially when one considers the setting for the story. There are some weird occurances, and Bella's unsettled nature fuels a sense of urgency. But it's the idea that everything happens for a reason that lends a heart to a murder mystery.

My biggest issue with the book is the fact that it's written in third person, present tense, leading to sometimes clunky sentences that seem superficial rather than in-depth. Several times I was pulled out of the story because of the writing style, though I did settle into it about mid-way. Personally, I felt the plot would have benefitted greatly from a first person view point, but that is just my preference because I don't feel the two styles gel particularly well. Overall, however, I ended up liking the book and will probably seek out others in the series.