Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the tale of an 16th century teenager with dwarfism and the uncertain path his life takes. Urged by nobleman Don Diego, Jepp agrees to leave his loving mother and Astraveld, the only home he’s known. He is unwittingly captured and sold to the Infanta Isabella and taken to the Palace of Coudenberg in the Spanish Netherlands. Here Jepp is subjected to the humiliating role of court jester. Among his companions are several other dwarfs. He quickly becomes enamored with the beautiful Lia. Not resigned to such indignations, Jepp attempts escape several times. He and Lia make one last attempt, only resulting in her untimely death, for which Jepp feels responsible.
He is eventually “sold” to Tycho Brach and travels to Uraniborg. Here he is kept at his master’s feet and fed scraps like a dog under the table. Curiosities abound at Brahe’s home, like the huge Elk that roams the halls and shares a stall with Jepp. Soon Brahe’s daughter discovers Jepp is not all he appears. He reads Latin and is the intellectual equivalent of any astronomer there and soon begins to assist the scientists. Not one to settle down for too long, Jepp must travel back to his home and revisit ghosts from his past before he can truly embrace his future.
An engrossing and unique tale that asks the question is our fate determined or do we have free will and the ability to change what is written in the stars.
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Louisa Cosgrove is on her way to be a companion to the eldest daughter of the Woodville family. Instead she is brought to Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the mentally insane. Immediately stripped of all her belongings, she is addressed only as Lucy Childs. There must be some mistake. She’s Louisa, not Lucy! She’s expected at the Woodvilles. Someone must straighten this out. No explanation, no recourse, no hope of freedom, Louisa is left to fend for her self and figure out how and why she is trapped in this nightmare.
The daughter of a doctor, Louisa grew up being encouraged to learn and dream. She wasn’t like other Victorian young ladies. Her aspirations are wider than marriage and motherhood. Louisa longs to be a doctor, like her father. When he suddenly dies, Louisa’s world begins to unravel. Gone are her hopes for the future she wants. Her brother, squandering his opportunities, scoffs at her. Her mother and aunt suggest she accepts her fate as a lady, and ladies are not doctors!
Fast forward and we are with Louisa as she encounters firsthand the horrors of a Victorian lunatic asylum. The doctors here are nothing like her kind, compassionate father. Monstrous treatments and bestial living conditions are endured by those kept at Wildthorn Hall. Louisa’s only glimmer of light in her darkened existence is Eliza, one of the workers. With her assistance, Louisa will unearth the truth of who she is and who is responsible for her incarceration.
Eagland exposes the reader to the true atrocities that were perpetrated in the name of science and medicine. We are with Louisa as she is stripped naked and bound in a bathtub of cold water. Our minds linger over the horrors she witnesses and endures. And gnawing at the back of our consciousness is that little seed of doubt. Who is Louisa …or is it Lucy?
Wildthorn is an exquisitely crafted thriller that delves deeply into the harsh reality of a Victorian woman who didn’t want to conform to the social norms of the time. Imagine your only path one of wife and mother. No education, no career. And if your husband or family thinks you’re not behaving appropriately, off you go to the asylum! I think the sentence that encapsulates the feelings that permeated the time is, “Excessive study, especially in one of the fair sex, often leads to insanity.”
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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has delighted readers for years. You may think that her story is just a flight of fancy sprung from the verdant imagination of Lewis Carroll. Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors that the author had other improper proclivities. Regardless of your Alice experience, Alice I Have Been is a brilliant look at the life of the Carroll’s muse.
Alice Pleasance Liddlell Hargreaves is now in her eighties. As she looks back on her long life she feels the inescapable shadow of being immortalized in one of literature’s greatest works. As a child, Alice roamed Oxford with her sisters. Her father’s work brought her in contact with many of the intellectuals of the time. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was simply an awkward, stuttering, young mathematics professor. He befriended Liddell and his daughters as they spent many a “golden afternoon” in Oxford. His talent for storytelling and his association with Alice led to the classic tale. On Alice’s urging, Dodgson (as Lewis Carroll) penned one of the stories he created to entertain the girls.
That’s not all there is to the story. In addition to mathematics and writing, Dodgson also dabbled in photography. Many of the subjects of his photo happen to be young girls in questionable poses. Alice describes she discarded her prim Victorian garb to dress up as a gypsy for one particular picture. This could be seen as inappropriate for today’s standards, so you can imagine the reaction elicited during the 1860’s.
As Alice matures, we follow her as she falls in love with Prince Leopold. The rumor of scandal keeps them from marrying. She marries Reginald Hargreaves and has three sons. The heartbreaks she endures throughout her life are exquisitely described, painful memories we share with Alice. As she looks back on her life, she is content to embrace that she is Alice.
Melanie Benjamin has crafted a beautiful tale, the perfect mix of fiction with fact. Reminiscent of Carroll’s original work, Oxford’s lush surrounding is the perfect backdrop for young Alice. The controversy surrounding Dodgson’s proclivities are examined, yet not judged. We are left with Alice’s interpretations to piece together what really happened. Fans of Lewis Carroll’s work will find new insight into Alice after reading Alice I Have Been.
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Princess Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the fictional island of Montmaray. She and her family are royalty, impoverished royalty, holding tight to a crumbling castle and way of life as the events of 1936 swirl around them. On her sixteenth birthday Sophie receives a journal in which she begins to chronicle the daily routine on Montmaray. Along with older brother Toby, younger tomboy sister Henry, and her cousin Veronica, Sophie’s world is limited to their island state. The real world crashes on their shore as two German soldiers arrive on Montmaray, marking an end to their solitude and boredom.
Michelle Cooper has given us a sparkling heroine in Sophie. The antics of the FitzOsborne clan had me enchanted. Reminiscent of the works of Daphne DuMaurier and Dodie Smith, A Brief History of Montmaray is an instant classic.
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