today I’m reviewing three historical novels, and a biography of a great ancient female ruler. If you pick up these books, I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
The Abortionist’s Daughter by Elisa DeCarlo
Melanie Daniels lives a quiet and boring life in a small American town. Her family is admired and loved by the community until one day her her father accidentally kills a woman while performing an abortion and is sent to jail. The small town is horrified, and shuns not just the doctor but his family too. Melanie’s only hope for the future seems to be marriage to Paul, a nice and shy younger guy who doesn’t make her heart flutter. That’s until she meets James. Believing him to be an honourable gentleman, Melanie runs away with him to New York. Here James shows his true colours and abandons her. His mistress Gladys, a Broadway actress, comes to her rescue, leaving her in her debt. Their paths will meet again when Melanie discovers her calling is the stage too.
The Abortionist’s Daughter is a coming of age story. At the start of the novel Melanie, who has lived a protected life in a small town, is very naive, completely ignorant in matters of sex, gullible, and selfish. She trusts the wrong people and make many mistakes, with awful consequences both for herself and those she loves. But she also tries to fix them, and learns a lot along the way. And she’s determined to make something of her life. She doesn’t just follow James to New York for love. She also follows him because she wants a better life for herself. For that, she’s willing to defy conventions and the role society imposed upon women. In doing so, she becomes a better person and an independent woman.
DeCarlo beautifully describes life in 1910, from the quiet life in a small, quite-narrow minded community, to the glitz and glamour of Broadway, to the many restrictions placed on women, leaving them few options. The language used fits the theme period well, adding another layer of authenticity to the story. It’s obvious DeCarlo did her research, and did it well.
The abortion topic is always a controversial one. But, despite what the title may imply, it’s not even the main theme here. Yet, DeCarlo strongly conveys how dangerous abortions were at the time, and how desperate women felt to decide to have one. Regardless of what your opinion is, the book, by humanizing these women, does offer some interesting food for thought.
My only criticism is that the book starts quite slowly. It took me a couple of chapters to fully get into it, but once it picked up speed somewhat, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to readers who love coming of age stories and fans of this historical era.
Available at: Amazon
The Sharp Hook of Love: A Novel of Heloise and Abelard by Sherry Jones
Everyone knows the story of Abelard and Heloise. He was one of the greatest philosophers in France. She one of the best learned woman in the country. He was headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School. She was his student. He aspired to fame. She was destined for the convent. But when they met, their lives changed forever. Abelard and Heloise fell in love. Ambitious but naive, the two lovers believed they could defy the conventions of the time, established by men they considered to be their inferiors. In the end, they were forced to decide between love, duty, and ambition.
The Sharp Hook Of Love is a beautiful retelling of this ever famous love story. But a one sided one. Heloise is the narrator, and everything that happened is filtered through her eyes and her feelings for Abelard. At times, it is actually difficult to remember how well-educated and intelligent Heloise really is, as consumed and obsessed as she is by her feelings for her lover. But love is not rational, and, if you expect it to be, you’re going to be very frustrated with Heloise. As much as she adores Abelard, though, he doesn’t come across as a good and dashing romantic hero in this book. He treats her quite badly for most of their time together, being more interested in making sure their relationship doesn’t ruin his career than anything else. Had the story had an omniscient narrator, and the reader able to see what was in his heart too, maybe he would have come across better.
But these drawbacks, if you can so call them, didn’t bother me nor diminished my enjoyment in reading the novel. On the contrary, The Sharp Hook Of Love is one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Vividly written and poignant, the love and passion the couple felt for each other exudes from every page. But this isn’t just a story about love. It’s a story about sacrifice. A story about power and how it was wielded to both keep women in their place and destroy your enemies. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner
The Tudor Vendetta is the third and last volume in the Spymaster Chronicles. I have not read the first two (but I surely will now), so I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to follow this story properly, but that wasn’t the case. Although there are many references to events that happened in the first two books, these are clearly explained, leaving the reader always up to date and never feeling frustrated.
The story takes place right after Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne. Spy-in-training Brendan Prescott returns to London from exile, hoping to keep working with Cecil and Walsingham to keep the Queen safe and to reconcile with his sweetheart, Kate, one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting. But the Queen has other plans. Her beloved Lady Parry has disappeared while on a visit to Vaughn Hall, her family home, and she needs Prescott to find out what happened to her. But the manor hides a secret that could destroy Elizabeth.
The Tudor Vendetta is full of twists and turns. When you think you have it all figured out, something unexpected happens. Although it starts slowly, and the beginning of the book seems to have little to do with the mystery Brendan is called to investigate, it soon picks up speed, forcing the reader to quickly turn the pages, unable to put the book down.
The world Gortner evokes is very vivid and realistic too. Although I didn’t fully get the sense of urgency he was trying to create, I did get the sense of mystery. The scenes at Vaughn Hall, especially, evoked a somewhat gothic atmosphere that keeps the reader uneasy and intrigued. The characters are also well-developed, especially Brendan. He’s quick, smart, confident, and loyal, yet with weaknesses and faults that make him human and easy to relate to. Although the trilogy has ended, I hope Gortner will keep writing about Brendan and his adventures.
Well-written and engaging, The Tudor Vendetta is a must read for all fans of the Tudors and of good mystery novels.
Available at: Amazon
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney
Reading The Woman Who Would Be King, a biography of Egyptian’s female ruler Hatshepsut, is as fascinating as it is frustrating.
Fascinating because Hatshepsut was an incredible woman who has done the unthinkable. She became regent for her nephew when she was just a teenager and refused to relinquish it even when he became old enough to rule on his own. She bent the boundaries of gender to consolidate her power in a society where authority was synonym with masculinity. She brought prosperity to her country. Never before had a woman held so much power, and centuries would pass before it happened again.
And yet her images and legacy were destroyed, and largely forgotten, by her successors. Which brings me to the frustrating part. Very little information about Hatshepsut has survived. Despite her astonishing achievements, we know very little of what she did, and even less of what kind of person she was. Therefore, this biography is full of conjectures and hypothesis. Terms like “likely” and “possibly” abound in almost every page.
In telling her story, Cooney presents the historical evidence, backed by sources, and explores all possible sides of an argument or event, and then shares her own conclusions. But even she admits that her book is more speculation that real history, especially when she tries to image how Hatshepsut felt at different moments in her life. It’s not her fault, though. Cooney did the best job she could with the information she had. Unless new evidence comes to light, it’s impossible to write a more accurate story of this ruler and her reign. If Egyptologists, academicians, and historians will still criticize her for it, the casual reader will appreciate it more.
Although written in an academic style, Cooney brings the world in which Hatshepsut lived back to life. A lot of her theories aren’t based only on fragments of old documents or what remains of her temples, but also on the beliefs and customs the Ancient Egyptians had. This gives us a better understanding of both the limitations imposed upon her and the opportunities she was given. If, by the end of the book, Hatshepsut still remains elusive, the Egyptian world she lived in will have revealed most of its secrets to you.
Well-researched, documented, and written, The Woman Who Would Be King is a wonderful read that will appeal to all fans of Ancient Egypt and powerful women.
Available at: Amazon
What do you think of these books?
Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.