Upon the death of her father, Isabel Valderocas, the studious daughter of an upright Old Christian family, discovers that she is really a Marrano and...moreUpon the death of her father, Isabel Valderocas, the studious daughter of an upright Old Christian family, discovers that she is really a Marrano and that for generations her family has been building up their Christian bonafides and managed to erase all trace that their ancestors were really Jews. Being the headstrong wench that she is, she decides to become one of them and take on the stressful, OMG-the-Inquisition-could-arrest-me-at-any-moment life that any Marrano has to live. Because, you see, there shouldn't be any Jews in Spain because Queen Isabella signed an expulsion order in 1492 declaring all non-Catholics should leave the country (yes, that means you too, Moors, even though you've been in Spain way longer than we have) or stay and face the Inquisition.
Isabel quickly finds herself caught up in the Spanish Royal Court and all its intrigues as she joins her brother and confederates on what seems a quixotic quest to bring religious liberty back to Spain under the guise of saving Spain's economic future, because Spain has gone to shit since that expulsion order because it was the Jews and the Moors who provided the firm financial and merchant base of the country while the Spanish nobility played and sucked the treasury dry. This wasn't helped by the increasing imbecility and ineffectiveness of the Spanish monarchy after generations of extensive inbreeding. Go on, look at the culmination of that prized Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre. I dare you.
The cast of characters in this book is pretty staggering, and there are long and frequent conversations of political and religious intrigue which might not rev the engines of romance lovers, but it certainly rang my bell. Because this is really more of a historical novel with some romance thrown in. I loved the portrayal of Phillip IV and his scenes with Isabel were very human and real. However I wish I could say the same for our romantic leads. It just didn't ring true, and Isabel was a strong chick until Rafael showed up (in person or in her thoughts) and then she became an irritating and clingy co-dependant who couldn't imagine why Rafael didn't need her as much as she needed him. Gag. Barf. Puke.
Rafael, Isabel's Reason for Being, is clawing his way to the top of the Dominican order with the intention of becoming Grand Inquisitor of Spain. But wouldn't that make him her enemy and the foe of all secret Jews in Spain? Stay tuned...
I won't give anything away, because you really should read it for yourself - especially if you know next to nothing about Spain during this period of history. But be warned: There is NOT an HEA (but still very satisfying.) However...if you want to read a novel that focuses on history and the damage that religion does to a country and its society, this is a wonderful read.(less)
This book surprised me. The time period (17th century) is not my favorite and the genre (huge family saga) is one with which I've had mixed results. H...moreThis book surprised me. The time period (17th century) is not my favorite and the genre (huge family saga) is one with which I've had mixed results. However, within the first 30 pages I was already hooked by the descriptions of the wilderness of Manhatan Island in 1613. But we're not talking lengthy paragraphs of detail that prompt you to skim. There was an economy of words that the author used very well to convey the most with the least amount of fuss. The very simple descriptions of the Indians' bark longhouses along the Hudson River, with small footpaths going through the forest made me want to BE there.
It's a huge story, and the author's research stood out on every page. Most times it was worked into the plot very evenly, and other times it was a little clunky as the omniscient narrator stepped in and declared that "this would eventually be known as" exposition. This may have been annoying if I already knew this period of history and material, but since I'm a complete newbie in this era of the American colonies, these details were most welcome.
The main character of this volume is Pieter de Kuyper, a Dutch cabinboy who makes it to the New World in 1613 and sees the amazing potential that Manhatan Island has. He was born for the hard, rough job of carving civilization out of the wilderness, but his new wife, Christiana, would much prefer to remain in Old World Amsterdam, surrounded by books and loving family. But there is no place for books and the finer things in life in this wild land. She is a very tragic figure, and I couldn't help but wonder how many other women suffered desperate lives (and madness) in the New World because their men were determined to live in this foreign, terrifying wilderness. This continues into the next generation, as one son longs for Europe like his mother and the other son and daughter are determined to create a life in America.
In these huge sagas, characters are sometimes no more than grandiose archetypes and the characterization can become a bit shallow. It was no different here, although there were some very strong instances of a character becoming more realistic through their ambiguity. Pieter believes in working with the Indians and not seeing them as barbaric savages to be eliminated, unlike others in New Amsterdam. He abhors the slave trade. However, when given an opportunity to stand against it, he sees the practicality of remaining silent. It didn't make him a weak person, because it seemed more "real" to me. One of the pet peeves I have against historical fiction is an author putting strident 20th century beliefs in the mouth of a person who lived over 300 years ago when the odds are they would never have done such a thing. Even in North and South, Virgilia was looked upon as more than a little crazy for her very outspoken abolitionist statements.
So bottom line: This is a very straightforward saga with little glitz and glam in the writing department, but I learned a TON of stuff about early New York that I would never have discovered otherwise. That's why it gets the 4 stars. Now I'm fascinated with this period of history and want to read more. The rest of the books in his 5-volume epic, up to the year 1930, are going to be read next!(less)
If you look at my past ratings, I don't hand out 5-star ratings easily. In fact, sometimes I feel like I'm too hard on these poor little books whose o...moreIf you look at my past ratings, I don't hand out 5-star ratings easily. In fact, sometimes I feel like I'm too hard on these poor little books whose only goal in life is to give the reader a few hours of enjoyment. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a few flaws, but nothing that detracted from the book as a whole.
After what felt like a rough start in From Distant Shores : The Novel of New York 1613-1667, where plot and history were sometimes clunkily intertwined, Nicolaysen really hit the ground running with this book. The combination of the family narrative and historical events was done much more deftly, and he did a significantly better job of making the characters living, breathing people. Jacob Adam, who was (purposely) made an inscrutable cipher in the first book due to his parentage, transforms from calculating businessman to caring, emotional human during the events of the first 150 pages. There were also longer stretches of pure fiction, so this book as a whole had much more depth than the Potemkin village feel of the first book, where fictional names were hung on history.
Nicolaysen's writing in this book struck me as very cinematic. It's not flowery, but clearly describes what's happening. There is a lot of head-jumping between characters, but no endless inner monologues that drag down the action. And action there is! The episode with Captain Kidd was riveting, the sea battle scenes were very well done and kept my eyes glued to the page. He took us from New York to Madagascar, to the middle of the Indian Ocean and every scene stood out in old-timey vivid Technicolor. The same holds true for the short but terrifying episode in 1741, when slaves were targeted by mob rule and hanged/burned at the stake for their imagined role in setting fires throughout New York City. And the high-pitched battle between Micmacs and our New Yorker protagonists on Cape Breton Island near the end of the book acted itself out in my mind with close shots, panning shots, the smokey cloud of musketfire and the sickening sound of tomahawks sinking into human flesh, all accompanied by an Erich Wolfgang Korngold score.
After a roller coaster ride of action, the book ended with a dinner debate between an old scion of the de Kuypers and the young colonel George Washington, setting the stage beautifully for the next book in the series because I have a feeling the de Kuyper clan will be fighting on both sides of the American Revolution. I can't wait.
ETA: Bruce Nicolaysen did in fact write the novel/screenplay for a WWII movie called The Passage in 1979.(less)
Little did I know when I started that Anna Maria Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, was a real person and quite...moreAgghhh! This was such a frustrating book.
Little did I know when I started that Anna Maria Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, was a real person and quite a notorious one at that. Apparently the few enduring historical mentions we have of her is from Samuel Pepys' diary:
Jan 17, 1667: "...and then from the whole house the discourse of the duell yesterday between the Duke of Buckingham, Holmes, and one Jenkins, on one side, and my Lord of Shrewsbury, Sir John Talbot, and one Bernard Howard, on the other side: and all about my Lady Shrewsbury, who is a whore, and is at this time, and hath for a great while been, a whore to the Duke of Buckingham."
May 15, 1668: "I am told also that the Countess of Shrewsbury is brought home by the Duke of Buckingham to his house, where his Duchess saying that it was not for her and the other to live together in a house, he answered, Why, Madam, I did think so, and, therefore, have ordered your coach to be ready, to carry you to your father’s, which was a devilish speech, but, they say, true; and my Lady Shrewsbury is there, it seems."
May 19, 1669: " Tom Killigrew, the father of Harry, who was last night wounded so as to be in danger of death, and his man is quite dead; and [Buckingham] there in discourse did say that he had spoke with some one that was by (which all the world must know that it must be his whore, my Lady Shrewsbury), who says that they did not mean to hurt, but beat him, and that he did run first at them with his sword...
So what's to be done with this strumpet, who allegedly dressed as a page and held the Duke's horse during the duel as she watched him run her husband through with his sword, and caused Buckingham to send his wife off to the country so she could move in to the house?
Forget Scarlett and Rhett, Dick and Liz, Romeo and Juliet. Pikers, all of 'em. Anna Maria Talbot and George Villiers had the Greatest Love of All Time, bee-yatches. A love so great that Mrs. Buckingham couldn't even deny it and stood aside with tears in her eyes because she loved her husband so much she couldn't deny him anything, even a mistress; and what's more, remained friends with her. A love so great that Mr. Talbot, on his deathbed, agreed to hand custody of their children back to her (and Buckingham) rather than to his brother, as would have been proper considering Anna's scandalous reputation. A love so great that Anna turned from frigid sex-as-a-duty wife to fully blossomed sensualist with one poke of the Duke's mighty wang.
Hey, I'm all for epic romances, but the adulation of Buckingham through Anna's eyes was frigging nonstop. She totally became a clingy non-entity who had (nor wanted) an identity other than through Buckingham and it reminded me of that book about Mary Robinson. I got so sick of the dependency, the passages of her memorizing his eyes, hair, breathing... Por ejemplo, before she leaves him at one point she inhales his breath "as if to absorb some essential part of him and keep it for herself."
Some of the contortions that the plot took to make Anna Maria shine through everything stretched credulity. Even when she and her hired thugs assaulted Tom Killigrew, she was presented as being the victim. Afterward, when it appeared that he would die from the beating, our sympathy was asked for when Anna is freaking out that she'll be tried as a murderess. I know her life and scandalous goings-on were during a time when the men who wrote history could whore around as much as they wanted and had the power to slime and denigrate any woman who didn't toe the line of chastity and purity. However, this author's treatment of her was such a 180 in the opposite direction, incorporating the sordid events of her life but with imagined details surrounding it that turned her into a stinking Madonna just made me want to scream. In fact, I think I did a few times when things got a tad too ridiculous.
On the plus side, this is a well-researched book, with the details of dresses, food, smells and sights of Restoration England worked rather artfully into the narrative with little to no info-dumps. I just couldn't stand the never-ending pleas of sympathy for characters who weren't very sympathetic in the first place, especially two such self-absorbed people as Anna Maria and George Villiers. Nell Gwyn was the most human of the bunch, and her scenes were always enjoyable.
So... if you don't like rape, cheating, want a HEA (view spoiler)[They are forced by the House of Lords to never see each other again and she goes into exile in France (hide spoiler)], and want characters that you'll love, then this book isn't for you. But I'm still glad I read it - I hadn't read anything about the Restoration other than Forever Amber. So, a meh 3 stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Oh Zebra... I totally don't respect you, and books like this one are the reason why. :D
Screeching harridan Deborah Montague is a foot-stomper and a yo...moreOh Zebra... I totally don't respect you, and books like this one are the reason why. :D
Screeching harridan Deborah Montague is a foot-stomper and a you-won't-tell-me-what-to-do earl's daughter in Maryland Colony in 1698. About to be married off in an advantageous marriage (to the men, that is) she ends up falling for a local half-breed, Tshingee. His brother, John, a totally Christianized indian and married to an Irish woman, finds himself framed for a murder so Deborah's father can seize his land.
Among the tropes: - white heroine feels more at home among minorities than among her own kind - Big Mis - a couple dangerous situations which the h stupidly gets into - the h proving her worth over the OW rival - inconsistencies galore - an evil evil father - adorable moppets that want to make you gag - huddling for warmth - parting of thighs and splintering shards of bright light - ancient rhythms that only the H and h know
and many, many more.
The heroine was annoying and WAY annoying, digging in her heels when things even end up going her way but without her permission thankyouverymuch. Tromping and stomping, hurling objects left and right when things don't go her way, she wanted to be the one calling all the shots. At least every mention of her didn't mention perfection, beauty, creamy skin, etc. unlike in other books I've suffered through. But she also amazingly seemed to know how to heal wounds, perform surgery, chop wood, and wield a musket with no prior experience whatsoever. So OK, still a Mary Sue.
The hero wasn't too bad, but he had his childish moments too. But of course it was all for the Cause of Filler and Dragging Things Out.
So all in all, it wasn't a horrible read, but not quality, either. I was more amused than aggravated by the ridiculous goings on, including the heroine's sailor vocabulary. I lost count of how many times she screeched "you son of a bitch!" at people. xD If you go into it with that frame of mind, then you can't lose with this inoffensive little train-wreck. :D (less)