First line: Sixteenth-century Venice was a rich mélange of cultural influences arising from the steady interaction of intellectuals, artists, diplomats, travelers, and merchants.
Review: I've been an enormous fan of Waldherr for years, thanks to her tarot decks, and I'd been so intrigued by this novel. Unbelievably, it's been ten years since this was originally released, and Waldherr is releasing this as an enhanced e-book.
This novel is a 16th century memoir, framed by notes from museum curators. The pages are richly illustrated, decorated with portraits, ephemera, illuminated caps, and other small notions that make the experience magical. (And had/has me wishing still that this manuscript, and the associated museum, were real!)
Filamena Ziani, singer and aspiring composer, is kept tightly hidden by her older sister Tullia, a reknown Venetian courtesan. But a chance encounter introduces Filamena to love, and her amour gifts her with a plum and his mother's journal, which details the lover's path -- lovers from history and mythology who act as guardians, guides, and icons for the young couple.
In addition to being an immensely gifted illustrator, Waldherr's narrative is wonderfully evocative. The set up of this novel immediately made me think of other medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, as Filomena addresses her patroness. Her story is a classic coming-of-age tale, sympathetically told, in a lyrical manner that is rich with detail without feeling bloated or overly ornate. The historical details and setting provide flavor and a strong sense of moody romance (how can it not -- it's Renaissance Venice!).
I read this on my Kobo Glo HD and it was a thing of beauty, even in black and white (iPad and Kindle Fire editions are in color and yowza!). The first few chapters are available as a PDF preview in sumptuous full color.
I've got nothing but swoony, swoony love for this one -- get it and indulge in some lush escapist reading! With the playful and charming illustrated elements, this book drew out that sense of wonderment I get from reading, the visceral joy of being plunged into a story. These days, being so frazzled and overtired (and impatient and dopey and etc etc etc) it was really a gift to feel so immersed in another world.
Publisher/Publication Date: Art and Words Editions (6/16/2015)
I've long wanted to read Donna Thorland as I love Revolutionary-era historical fiction and have seen rave reviews for her books. Happily, I wasn't disappointed with this read, which was atmospheric, detailed, and vividly done.
Set in 1777, Mistress Firebrand features a young American playwright, Jennifer Leighton. Niece to the much toasted actress Fanny Leighton, Jennifer aspires to fame, and considers a daring plan to do so: have British general John Burgoyne act as her patron. Burgoyne is a notorious womanizer, so British spy Severin Devere decides to ward off any distractions, but finds himself charmed and intrigued by the writer. Pretty soon, both become caught up in the war between England and the colonies, and both have to decide where their loyalties lie, a decision made more complicated by their very obvious interest in each other.
In addition to being a fabulously fun historical romance, Thorland tackles some rather "modern" issues in the story, which just ratchets the book from good to great: careers over relationships, safe sex through condom use, and the idea of pleasure and happiness. Jennifer and Severin (and their friends and enemies) felt historical grounded and yet, discussed and debated topics that are relevant to people today (which I love). There was a real struggle, not just for Jennifer and Severin to survive a war unscathed (which was exciting enough), but for the two of them to have professional happiness, too.
I mean, read this, from our heroine Jennifer. I practically cheered on the subway:
"...I have seen love up close now, and I will not settle for the kind that limits and diminishes me. You are capable of more than killing. I am capable of more than domestic devotion. I do not wish the kind of love that reduces over time who we each are. I want the kind that makes the whole of us greater than the sum of our parts." (p298-299)
There were sexytimes that were hot and plotty (and surprising!). There's a fabulous wealth of detail about 18th century theater (Jennifer is inspired by Mercy Otis Warren and her aunt by Mary Darby Robinson, two real life figures I love, so I've got love-upon-love here!) as well as exciting wartime drama. This isn't a fluffy read, not precisely, but it races from the mix of romance, tension, and humor -- a combo I love.
Technically, this is the third book in Thorland's Renegades of the American Revolution series, although I don't think they're actually connected in any way other than setting. I'm dying to get my hands on the other two now -- I'm a Thorland fangirl!
This is a reissue of a 2012 self-published novel that went through some rewrites and plot changes. Sadly, it still read like a self-pubbed novel to me, so I DNF'd at 50ish pages.
Writing style and plotting reminded me of M.L. Malcolm, who isn't my tastes, but has lots of rabid fans. Dialogue felt weak to me and there's so much melodrama it lost its impact after the first chapters.
May 2015: Am going to just DNF this and move on. Am at about 73% and while I'm liking it a smidgen more, I'm just exhausted by the encyclopedic focus on Sand's life (to the detriment of the story, I feel), and the dual story lines (I do not see a difference in young Sand and older Sand, and it just makes the story drag on and on and on...).
Berg's articulation of a writer, however, was interesting (I love writers on writers). It's obvious she likes and admires Sand, for all her flaws, but despite the amount of words dedicated to Sand, I actually didn't feel like I knew her.
April 2015: I just cannot get into this book. Every time I mention it, everyone talks about how much the love Berg's novels, so I keep trying (this is my first time reading her) but the story is agonizingly slow. The split narrative -- her childhood, and then her adulthood -- just slows things down even more.
I'm woefully behind on this review -- I inhaled this one back in January, the first full length novel I read after giving birth to Unabridged Baby in November. It was a wonderful return to reading.
I'd been dying to get my hands on this one since it's original release; between the setting -- Revolutionary War -- and the premise -- a woman who passes as a man -- I was immediately intrigued. My eagerness was well placed as this is a wonderfully engrossing read that is impossible to shake.
Set in 1782, the novel follows Deborah Samson, an indentured servant who is a weaver in a small Massachusetts town. Frustrated by her present circumstances and impatient with the few opportunities ahead of her, Deborah signs onto the Continental Army as Robert Shurtliff. She finds soldiering immediately fits her personality and years of hard work allows her to blend in with the other recruits. In time, her identity as Robert the soldier blends, bleeds, and trumps that of Deborah, but as she tries to imagine what her future is like, she's forced to decide who she is and how she wants to live.
Booth took the stack of coats the soldier passed him. "Think of the lasses in Massachusetts weaving and sewing these garments for you," he said. The words caught Deborah short; she had been such a lass, weaving cloth at Sproat's, listening to the other girls talk of their brothers and husbands gone to be soldiers. She had woven and envied and wished, and now here she was, on the other side -- on the inside -- of that same fabric. (p72)
Samson is a real historical figure, and her time in the Continental Army is fact. Myers convincingly depicts the life of Deborah/Robert -- the historical details are fabulous, rich without being overwhelming -- and makes believable this fascinating story. (And the end, oh the end! I cried. In a good way.)
My favorite part of this book was Myers' narrative style and the way he articulated the conflicting push-pull of Deborah/Robert. Deborah is Robert and Robert is Deborah, and yet, each struggled to live fully within the social constructs facing them: Robert could live the unencumbered free life that Deborah always yearned for, but love and motherhood seemed something only Deborah could have. In the story, Myers would shift between identifying Sampson as Deborah or Robert, but this isn't a story of two people, or split personalities. It is a bittersweet -- and occasionally just bitter -- look at the complicated dance done when society tries to push people into tight frames, relevant now and compellingly done.
A wonder historical novel of Revolutionary era New England, and a fascinating biographical novel of a forgotten, but intriguing, figure.
Publisher/Publication Date: Simon & Schuster (1/14/15)
Source: The author/publisher
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / New England / American Revolution / War / Gender Identity / Romantic Relationships)
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
I read this in hardcover close to when it was released, I think. This book numbers among a few dozen from my tween years that have stuck with me. I was 12ish, 13ish on an Air Force Base in South Dakota. I was going through puberty, and it was awful. But the children's/YA librarian at the base library was a GODDESS. I don't know who she was but I owe her everything. The section was beefy and robust and full of novels beyond Babysitter's Club and R.L. Stine.
I've not been able to find this book as an adult to see if it's as good as I remember, but it had all the elements I liked then: fab heroine, a hint of romance, some swears, lots of snark. (I still remember the bit where our heroine is trying to get First Aid, but her French is so bad she only manages le premiere aide or something like that. It tickled me so.) Oh, and a French setting, which I'm still a sucker for.
Other than the time travel, and the first aid quip, I don't recall much else about this book, other than deep, intense affection. What more can I ask for?
I read about 50 books for 2014, which is a huge drop from my typical year (almost by half!). Pregnancy, and the resulting baby, are to blame, and while I'm a little disappointed, the aforementioned baby -- our Little Reader -- is so frickin' cute, I kind of can't care.
I still walked away with some stellar reads for 2014, and once again, had a challenging time identifying the top ten of this year. In the end, I picked the books I still talk about obsessively, that I purchased (for myself and/or others), and that I want to reread or force others to read.
Seven of the ten novels are historical fiction. Four are penned by men and two are collaborative efforts, which is fascinating -- I've never had novels with multiple authors make my top ten before, and now two have! In terms of other diversity, I did badly, and it's a 2015 goal of mine to read more authors of color and non-US/UK/CA-based authors.
Here they are!
Sally Beauman, The Visitors
I haven't gotten around to reviewing this one (although I did blurb it for Bloggers Recommend, and if you want a great review, see Historical Fiction Notebook.) Ultimately, the book's heroine, Lucy, captivated me, and despite the novel's slightly disjointed feel, her voice was so strong, I sucked up every page just to be with her.
Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World
Penned by a married couple, a novelist and a poet, this novel swept me away, much like the flood central to the story. A little love story, a murder mystery, a historical snapshot of a forgotten disaster, this novel has it all. I expected the story to feel disjointed, but Franklin and Fennelly created a lyrical, cohesive story I haven't forgotten.
J. Boyce Gleason, Anvil of God
This was one of my first reads for 2014, and I still think about the story and characters. Set in the 8th century, this novel has flavors of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Phillipa Gregory, and mixes romance with battle easily and convincingly. I'm dying to read the next book.
Elaine Neil Orr, A Different Sun
I was astounded by this novel -- by the premise, by the narrative style, by the deft handling of white privilege, slavery, women's rights in a historical context. Inspired by the real life diary of the first Southern Baptist missionaries in Africa, Orr explores marriage, faith, and colonialism in a compassionate, captivating manner.
Mallory Ortberg, Texts from Jane Eyre
I'm madly in love with this smart, snarky volume of classics "retold" in the form of text messages between characters. Books about books are a perennial favorite of mine, and this one takes the best of more than sixty classics, both ancient and contemporary, and distills them to their silliest and most sublime.
Laura Purcell, Queen of Bedlam
This novel represents what I love about historical fiction: a well-researched story that entertains. Focusing on the wife and daughters of "mad" King George III, Purcell evokes the tumultuous and tragic events of the Hanoverian royals without overdoing the drama or loading on the unnecessary research. At the heart of this novel, a story of family and loyalty.
Deanna Raybourn, Night of a Thousand Stars
This was my first experience with Raybourn, and I fell madly in love. This was a splashy, historical rom com with exotic locales, a winsome heroine and a dreamy hero, and plenty of drama. There were laugh-out-loud moments, a romance I rooted for, and smart narrative styling that kept this from being rote or cheesy.
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
This creepy, sinuous speculative novel captivated me -- so much so I had nightmares inspired by it! A poetic novel with a sci-fi plot, this is a slender book that invites one to linger but I couldn't help racing through it. Supremely original.
Various, A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Six fabulous historical novelists tackle the eruption of Mount Vesuvius with a series of intertwined stories. The intentional collaboration pays off in this cohesive novel; there's no jarring misstep, dropped thread, or narrative shift to distract from the tragedy of the story.
Ann Weisgarber, The Promise
This is one of those reads I can't seem to review well; I need to just make a video of myself flailing in hopes of conveying my love. A novel of the 1900 Galveston hurricane, it is also the story of emotional storms. Weisgarber's writing is just wonderful, and she makes the novel's triad -- two women connected to one man -- rich, fascinating, and heartbreaking.
Last week today I had my baby. Meet Winslow Alcott.
I'm totally in love, even though I'm also exhausted in a way I never imagined, not even when I pulled all-nighters.
Thank goodness he's so adorable.
Someday, I understand, I'll have energy to read again.
Enter to win one of three copies from my blog.
Here's my one sentence review: this book is so hilarious, it's coming with me to the delivery room for when I need a laugh. (My midwife says laughing helps relieve pain and anxiety).
This deliciously irreverent volume re-imagines classic and favorite books, poems, and authors from Western literature and recasts them as a series of text messages. Featuring over sixty pieces, each just a few pages long, characters and story arcs are distilled into snarky, silly, and sublime extremes: Rochester is a passionate suitor who <a href="http://thehairpin.com/2012/07/texts-from-jane-eyre">texts in all caps</a>; Ned Nickerson keeps harassing Nancy Drew while she works on her investigations; Byron and Hamlet are laughably pathetic while <a href="http://textsfromjaneeyre.com/#excerpt">Circe</a> and Scarlett O'Hara are delusional divas.
Although I'm familiar with many (but not all) of the works featured, I found everything laugh-out-loud funny. My wife and I took turns reading this aloud to each other, but had to quit because we literally couldn't breathe at certain points, and I do truly intend to bring this into the delivery room with me because I can't not read Henry David Thoreau without dissolving into hysterics every time.
Ortberg takes what is absurd about our favorite characters and authors and emphasizes it in ways I think many readers already have. The <a href="http://textsfromjaneeyre.com/#interview">inspiration</a> for this book came from a piece on The Hairpin, when someone commented that her small town life was like <i>Gone With the Wind</i> but with cell phones. The format works because we all know people (or have read transcripts) of text messages so self-absorbed and so ludicrous, one can't help but laugh.
Fans of humor sites like Damn You Auto Correct! and The Toast will love this, as well as lit fans who don't mind their beloved classics being played with. This is a fun volume to have on hand for dinner parties or on the nightstand -- it's easy to dip into and is delicious, nerdy fun.
This intriguing YA historical novel has Swift's usual deft use of historical background and unusual but strongly defined characters. (My reviews for Swift's The Gilded Lily and A Divided Inheritance.) Set in the 17th century in the midst of the English Civil War, the novel is the first in a trilogy, each book following one of the three leads.
Abigail "Abi" Chaplin is a cheap maid after she lost her hearing to childhood illness, and she's sent to Markyate Manor to work as a maid. Shocked to find the grand estate virtually abandoned save for a cranky cook and a vile overseer, she's even more shocked to find her mistress, Lady Katherine Fanshawe, is a girl her same age.
While cold and imperious at first, Abi and Katherine become unlikely allies when Katherine decides to pass herself off as "Kate", another maid. To Abi's horror, her brother Ralph is taken with Kate, and invites them to join in his Digger community -- a commune-like movement of tenants and farmers who organize to live on public land rather than as paid tenants for the local manors.
Against this social drama -- one that was totally new to me, and deeply fascinating! -- is the backdrop of war, and in particular, the way it impacted the local folks as the armies mustered and marched through town. Katherine's fortune and inheritance is stolen from her by her milquetoast husband and her brutal father-in-law, and she has to protect herself as best as she can.
At 200 pages, this is a quick read, but one that is rich with characterization and wonderful historical details. Although I wasn't a fan of Katherine -- I couldn't fathom why Abi liked her or what Ralph found appealing about her other than her beauty -- I appreciated the complicated relationship she and Abi had (and how it changed as time went on), and the rich mix of real life details with fictional ones. I also loved that there was a deaf main character; it's rare to see in fiction, especially historical fiction, and made for an even more interesting story.
As with Swift's other novels, there's a delightfully detailed historical note that more than satisfies. This is the first in a trilogy, but has a solid conclusion that doesn't require one to pick up the other two -- but as the following novels follow Katherine and Ralph from their viewpoints, I can't help but want to get them, despite my exhaustion with trilogies.
Fans of English historical fiction, especially the Civil War era, will like this book. Although there's some romantic elements, this is really a novel about friendship, class, and identity (as well as forgiveness and patience).
Authority is the second book in Jeff VanderMeer's creepy and delicious speculative sci-fi-ish Southern Reach trilogy. (My review of the first book, Annihilation.)
This is going to be a tricky review for me as there are things from the first book I don't want to inadvertently spoil, and let's be real, detailed recap of a second book from a trilogy one is unfamiliar with makes for boring reading.
John Rodriguez, called "Control", has become the new director of the Southern Reach. His job to dissect what happened with the last expedition, and make sense of what is happening in the area. His co-workers and subordinates are hostile, strange, and jumpy, and his work is a mix of sorting through bureaucratic layers as well as injecting new life into a stagnating agency.
But things aren't straightforward for Control; the strange, alien, hallucinatory world we experienced in Annihilation encroaches on the "ordinary" world Control inhabits, and like Control, we're left wondering what is in his head, and what is far more insidious.
Meatier than the first book (this one runs 341 pages, compared to Annihilation's 195 pages), this one occasionally dragged for me. There's more back story as we learn about Control's family, working history, and complicated relationship with his mother -- which does impact his work at Southern Reach -- but I found it a tiny bit slow at times, especially as I was consumed with wanting to know "the truth" about Area X. Still, the delightful creepiness comes through with this one, including a scene at the end so deliciously frightening, I still get shivery thinking about it. (I understand the trilogy has been optioned for a movie, and this scene will make everyone jump out of their seats!)
There's a smidgen of a cliffhanger at the end of this one, and I am biting my nails impatiently for the final book in the series, Acceptance.
If you're an X-Files or Lost fan, or enjoy Dan Simmons or Jules Verne, consider starting this series -- it's fast, creepy, atmospheric, and wonderfully fun.
This bawdy, dramatic, and atmospheric historical novel brings to life Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, a nearly forgotten Elizabethan poet -- the first woman in England to be published -- who, in O'Reilly's hands, becomes a lover and muse to William Shakespeare -- the inspiration of his Dark Lady sonnets.
Set between 1592 and 1616 in London, the novel is narrated by Aemilia. The young mistress of an older courtier, Aemilia is renown at court for her wit and beauty, and she catches the attentions of playwright Shakespeare. But their affair leads her to a forced marriage with her cousin and she's removed from court, where she stews over improving her fortunes, pursuing her passion for poetry, and raising her son. As the plague strikes London, Aemilia's focus shifts toward more dangerous territory as she explores black magic to save all that she loves.
This was the kind of book I dove into one morning and couldn't put down until I finished. Aemilia's voice is knowing, brash, and unapologetic. She's hungry for her independence, frustrated with her useless husband and her writing, which doesn't match her aspiration. (How I can relate to that!)
Although Aemilia reads vibrant, real, and realized, sadly, the grand love affair between Aemilia and Shakespeare felt flat to me. Thankfully, their affair is only a brief interlude in Aemilia's long and eventful life (despite the importance implied by the book jacket), and I was more caught up in her relationship with her son (especially as I had just found out I was having a boy) and her struggles as a writer.
I found the setting, while not specifically articulated in any detail, was well evoked -- I felt like I was in Elizabethan London, all the glittery and grimy parts of it. There are some supernatural elements, especially toward the end of the story, which I quite liked; the hints of magic reminded me of those magical moments in Elizabethan works and touch upon the historical Lanyer's own writing.
The book is filled with marvelous extras: about ten pages of historical notes, a timeline, glossary of Elizabethan terms, and a list of suggested reading.
A delicious read of a long-forgotten writer, this is a fun historical novel for those who like fierce heroines, some vulgar language (Aemilia doesn't mince words!), fabulous sense of place, and plenty of drama.
I am the newest member of the passionate Deanna Raybourn fan club. This historical novel, set in 1920, has the snappy banter and flirtatious manner of 1930s screwball rom coms with the bouncy, breezy intrigues of Lauren Willig. Add a dash of Indiana Jones, and you have this delightful novel.
I was sucked in from the first page, and completely taken with our impetuous heroine, exotic locale, and yummy romance. The story opens with Poppy March Hammond attempting to crawl out a church window in her wedding dress, having realized she absolutely cannot marry her fiancee, the dullish but rich Gerald. A handsome and mostly sanguine clergyman, Sebastian, helps her out by whisking her away to Devon, where she shelters with her estranged father. There, she learns her paternal aunt, Lady Julia Grey (yes, that one!) was a detective and spy, and Poppy is inspired. Deciding to seek out Sebastian to thank him for his help, she discovers he wasn't quite what he implied, and that's when the real adventure starts.
Setting off for the Middle East as the companion to a retired Colonial working on his memoirs, Poppy embarks on some amateur sleuthing, helped by her extremely capable and mysterious lady's maid, Masterson. She's flirted with heavily by a variety of hot men, and gets whisked into some serious hot water with her investigation.
Everything about this story worked for me, and it was a playful, frothy read that was perfect for sleepy nights after work and busy weekends -- I could dive in and escape when I needed. I laughed out loud more than once: Poppy is delightfully snarky, a lovely mix of ingenue and flapper, and Raybourn gives Poppy and her men some wonderfully flirtatious banter that I just lapped up.
The setting couldn't get any more exotic and escapist -- the Middle East in the 1920s -- and Poppy is the perfect companion to travel with. Admiring everything, open and curious, she plunges into life with vim I wish I could channel. (On a more serious note, I'll add I appreciated Raybourn's handling of attitudes about colonialism in this era. It would have been inauthentic to have a cast of characters who understood why the divvying up of the Middle East by European powers was bad, but unapologetically pro-colonialist attitudes would have rang oddly in a novel like this. Raybourn manages to recognize, name, and present the pro-colonialist sentiments through her characters while having our heroine feel uneasy about those attitudes -- all without seeming anachronistic or heavily whitewashed. It's a real skill to manage that -- respectful without getting preachy -- and it made me really able to appreciate the story.)
While loosely connected to Raybourn's previous novel, City of Jasmine through a minor character, and in the same universe as her Lady Julia Grey novels, this is a delicious standalone that one can dive into without being familiar with the other books (as I was).
This book has one of the most unique premises I've read in a while: set in 1730 in the Pennsylvania colony, our heroine Selah Kilbrid is literally a direct descendent of the goddess Brigid. Her divine gift is that of healing, a gift she cannot refuse to use when asked -- but a gift she has to keep hidden lest she gain some unwanted attention. From an Irish Catholic family, she lives in the heavily Quaker town of Hopewell, a well-liked healer and farmer's daughter.
Pursued by a Quaker preacher, Nathan, whose interest in her crosses into dangerous obsession, Selah agrees to an arranged marriage with a cousin per her father's wishes. But upon arriving in Philadelphia, she instead finds herself bound together with the (stunningly sexy) Henry Alan, an indentured servant.
I admit I have a love/hate relationship with romance novels: I adore me some hot and heavy flirtation but really loathe some of the childish, alarming, or emotionally unstable behavior that gets trotted out in the name of plot. But Edgren's historical romance has everything I luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve in a romance novel: fabulously fun heroine and hero, great setting, delightful obstacles that don't make me mentally scream, "Just tell him!", and a believable chemistry that had me swooning within a dozen pages.
Selah was a believable heroine that I loved from the first page: bold in ways that felt authentic and historically accurate (even as a demi-goddess!), who acted in a manner that read reasonable and believable -- even when she made dumb choices. As Edgren stays solely in Selah's first person POV, we don't know much about Henry and his motivations, but he's a dreamboat with a dramatic backstory. The complications between Selah and Henry are interesting and actually challenging: how does she handle her goddess-ness with him, and how much can she trust a man who is literally indebted to her but legally has rights to her inheritance?
And as for the sex...there is none! Don't despair, as I might have if I learned this tidbit ahead of reading, as there's plenty of tension and some making out that's fun. The absence of sex only stood out to me as this is from Carina/Harlequin, so I just assumed there'd be sexytimes, but in terms of storytelling and plot, how everything shakes out for our hero and heroine reads perfectly. I didn't miss the sex, and I still had happy sighs throughout the book.
This is clearly the first in a series, and I am frothing with impatience for the next book. (The danger of inhaling new releases, am I right?!) I read this book in a day -- started it in the AM and just kept sneaking glances throughout the day, pausing only when necessary -- and it's a great escapist read for those who enjoy some armchair time travel and competent heroines. The Pre-Revolutionary War Philadelphia and Pennsylvania setting is wonderful, as is Edgren's Quaker community -- a locale I rarely come across in historical fiction.
If you like historical romances, get this for sure. If you like some paranormal or supernatural elements in your fiction, but aren't into urban fantasy, also consider this one -- it has some magical themes that blended seamlessly into the story and never jarred me out of the rest of the narrative.
Full review. What I loved most about this novel was Leveen's sensitive look at the emotional implications of being a wetnurse. Angelica has just lost her child when she's given infant Juliet; it's no wonder she fell in love with the needy infant she nurtured. But that relationship is fraught, for Angelica is not Juliet's mother, and her connection with the child she loves is dependent on whether her employers still value her.
The first half of the novel is devoted to this, which surprised me but was the best part of the novel. Once the story shifted into Shakespeare's tragedy, the story was less gripping -- of course the nurse is stricken and sad, and of course she's devoted -- and since we know what's going to happen to Juliet, it was just about sitting back and letting the bus drive.
As a look at medieval life for a domestic, this was really fascinating. Shakespeare loyalists shouldn't mind this imagining, and those who might be unfamiliar with Romeo & Juliet will be able to enjoy the story just fine.
Thirty knitting projects inspired by literature's greatest characters. Most are adorable and wearable: Ishmael's fisherman sweater, Daisy's cloche, Lady Brett Ashley's pullover sweater although there are a few misses (Kitty's muff looks so cheap, but maybe it's the color). (All projects can be previewed through Ravelry.)
I worked one project, the Eppie baby bonnet (from Silas Marner). It's adorable now that it's finished, but I found the directions maddeningly vague. Lohr's intro and conclusion has some great knitting tips but none that seemed to apply to her pieces, and I found myself having to google and beg others who've done the work for help.
Not a pattern book I'd splurge on, sadly.