Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Lately . . .
Dear readers, I'm behind on blogging my book reviews and I have some interesting historical facts to share with you all in a few weeks. For now, I hope you enjoy the book reviews I have for you.

The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse, read by Susan Duerden -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Johanna is a maidservant to Dame Margery Kemp, a 13th century holy woman. It's a bit of a trial for Johanna to look after Dame Margery who continuously weeps for Christ's sufferings, but Cook and little Cicely (the other maid) make Johanna's position a bit easier with their friendship. Johanna still longs to return home to her father and older sister though, and enjoy the comforts of being a prosperous farmer's daughter. However, her father is in debt and her sister is now married, so Johanna has been sent into service to help the family. She has little choice to put up with Dame Margery's constant demands and the public gossip about Dame Margery's private life. When Dame Margery decides to go on a pilgrimage to Rome she insists on taking Johanna with her. Johanna is nervous about leaving England but looks forward to the adventure. The journey does not turn out as expected when Johanna discovers that the rest of the pilgrims are far less kind than her mistress. Only John Mouse, a student heading to Bologna, and Bartholomew, another servant take an interest in her. After a difficult and dangerous journey to the Alps, the rest of the pilgrims decide to part ways with Dame Margery, taking Johanna with them! Johanna must be brave and resourceful if she's going to find a way home. She is abused battered and beaten down before she finally finds the courage to help herself. This book is for older teens and adults. It's full of gritty details of daily life in the Middle Ages, much like Karen Cushman's books, but without the humor to ease the disgustingness. There are quite a lot of religious references that bog down the story but were so important to people at that time. There's also lots of violence, some sexual innuendo and some nasty characters. I appreciated the details but it got to be too much after awhile and I wanted something happy to occur for a change. I was torn between liking and not liking Johanna. For most of the book she meekly accepts what happens to her and I found that annoying. By the time she finally takes charge, I felt sorry for her and wanted her to have a happy ending. The ending is a bit unusual and not really necessary. It could have ended a chapter or two earlier. 

I listened to the Audible Audio edition read by Susan Duerden. I really liked her narration. She pitches her voice differently for each character and I could always tell who was speaking. She has a light, pleasant voice with an English accent to lend an air of authenticity (though I doubt Johanna would have spoken so well). I would recommend this book to dedicated medievalists only.

A Golden Web by Barbara Quick -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Alessandra Giliani is the daughter of a medieval stationer, or bookmaker and seller, living in 14th c. Italy where girls like Alessandra are expected to marry and raise children. Alessandra doesn't wish to be married. She fears dying in childbirth like her own beloved mother and dreams of going to the University at Bologna to study anatomy. Alessandra, bright and curious, is a thorn in her step-mother's side and Ursula is determined to be rid of her troublesome step-daughter. Alessandra is protected by her big brother Nicco but on her 14th birthday, Ursula shuts Alessandra away from the world as is expected of girls of her station before marriage. Alessandra's father is kind and sympathetic. Her brothers and sisters sneak her her beloved books but still she isn't content. When her father finds a wealthy man for Alessandra to marry, she knows she has to take action and soon, but how? When her father proposes she spend a year in seclusion at a convent, Alessandra reluctantly agrees. From there, she embarks on a dangerous journey of deception to live out her dream. She proves herself able to the task, though she must avoid detection at all costs or she could be burned at the stake. She even finds an unexpected ally and true romance. This is an exciting story about a (possibly) real young woman who dared to defy convention. The book is rich with historical detail, especially about the stationer's trade and anatomy lessons. The anatomy parts were pretty gross, unless you like that sort of thing. The romance is bit predictable and cheesy but the remarkable story caught my attention and I couldn't put it down. The language is fairly simple and some parts are a bit rushed but I think adults can enjoy this novel as well as teens.

1 comment:

  1. Love that time period in Italy and always looking for more books set in it. Thanks for the recommendation!


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