Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

country Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

Thank-you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a synopsis of this novel please click here.

This novel tells the story of the fictional Boylston family from Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. It is predominantly a coming-of-age story for the female protagonist Eliza Boylston and her story touches upon the theme of freedom and how fickle it’s meaning can be.

Whilst Eliza’s brother, Jeb, fights for the rebel cause and speaks of freedom for his countrymen Eliza looks closer to home and begins to question the hypocrisy that slavery is rampant in her community. Eliza becomes close to her parent’s slave, Cassie, and the reader is witness to the gradual shedding of mental prejudice that must take place before their friendship can be truly pure. It takes Eliza the majority of the novel to cast off the beliefs instilled in her since childhood. This is miles beyond what any other character in the novel seems capable of. Although many are portrayed as being sympathetic to the plight of slaves, they do not feel it is as important to fight for them as it is to fight for their own sense of the freedom that is to be gained from breaking with British rule. Eliza feels the exact opposite; although sympathetic to the rebel cause it is the everyday injustice of slavery that causes her to take a stand.

I really liked Eliza and everything her character  began to stand for and therefore I greatly enjoyed her story. I appreciate that the author made her a product of her time and not so modern that she becomes disjointed from the time period. Eliza comes to the conclusion that the fight for freedom should include all people due to her own life experiences and not because she was “ahead” of her time. As a Christian people the injustice of slavery should already have been present in the mindset of society, however humans so often turn a blind eye and never think to question something that they take as part of the norm. All Eliza did was begin to question. In many ways it was the actions of Cassie that brought home the truth to Eliza. Cassie embodies all of the qualities that a Christian is supposed to possess. She is patient, kind and compassionate and I admired her character greatly. I wonder if Eliza would have as quickly come to the same conclusions if Cassie had not been such an inspiration.

Although this novel has a romantic storyline also, I feel as though it was the relationship between Eliza and Cassie that held the most weight. Eliza falls in love with her uncle’s slave and similar mental prejudice must be overcome for their relationship to succeed, however it was never as poignantly described as it was with Cassie. I enjoyed the addition of a love story to the novel but I would not say that it was the main theme. In my opinion this novel falls firmly in the historical fiction category, not in the subgenre of historical romance.

An aspect of the novel I really appreciated was how much Eliza moved around the New England area. By moving from Cambridge to Portsmouth to Braintree it allowed me to gain a wider perspective of life at the time of the Revolution. I also liked that John and Abigail Adams became part of the story once Eliza moved to Braintree as they brought a sense of authenticity to the novel. I plan on going back and reading “The Midwife’s Revolt”, Jodi Daynard’s first novel and a companion novel to this one. From what I gather John and Abigail Adams are much more central characters in The Midwife’s Revolt.

Overall I found this to be an interesting read with some very thought-provoking themes. I would recommend giving it a read, regardless of whether you are familiar with the time period or not.

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The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

palatine The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

 

Thank-you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a full synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.

This novel is told from the perspectives of three very different women. Julia is the daughter of Emperor Augustus (heir to Julius Caesar), Livia is his wife and Selene is his ward, daughter of the defeated and now deceased Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. All three characters are striving to find their path in the new world of Rome after the civil war and the death of the Republic.

For the most part I found this novel to be Julia’s story. Her character not only had the most prose but was also the most vivid of the three. I came to feel a strong connection to her and therefore her bias became my own. Considering the two other main character’s opinions often conflicted with Julia’s it is quite telling that I sided with her the way I did. I truly felt every heartbreak and pitied every lonely thought that she had. The author states in her author’s note that her “biggest challenge in writing this novel was to portray her [Julia] as a psychologically comprehensible human being”. She absolutely succeeded. Julia’s character resonated with me in a way that the others did not and a very strong empathetic response was stirred. I greatly admire the author’s character development of Julia.

Overall this is not an action-packed novel, rather the focus is upon the three female protagonists and how their lives were affected by the everyday workings of the early Roman Empire. Augustus is portrayed as the personification of the Empire itself and therefore his whims become lore and his moods shape the lives of those around him. Taking up with Julia as I did meant that I did not like the character of Augustus at all. As a father he is a complete failure, regardless of how capable a ruler he was. Julia feels nothing more than a tool in his hand, used to help shape the Empire into what he wishes it to be. It is not surprising why she behaves as she does, a promiscuous wild child searching for the thing that is missing from her life: unselfish love. Once she finally finds it I became terrified that it would be taken from her. I fervently wished that this wouldn’t be the case, whilst at the same time picking up on the undertone of doom the author was filtering into the novel. Julia’s life felt very much like a car crash hurtling towards the inevitable.

Although I didn’t forge quite the same connection to Livia or Selene, I still appreciated what their voices brought to the novel. Livia’s undeniable love for Augustus went a little way towards humanizing a man who would have otherwise come across as completely robotic. Selene represented the mercy he could show and is portrayed as a living reminder of the civil war and the destruction that it wrought. Having lost both parents to this war it is hard to imagine how Selene would have felt towards the victor and subsequently the killer of her parents. In this novel Selene thrives and the author explains this by cleverly creating a memory for Selene of her mother’s dying wish being for her daughter to live. Therefore she strives to do just that. She focuses not upon revenge or hatred but rather upon continuing her mother’s legacy of being a wise and enlightened ruler. Her marriage to Juba and role as Queen of Mauretania allowed her to personify this ideal. It struck me as ironic that Selene’s destiny was both happy and fulfilling and Julia’s was not, considering that one was the daughter of the victor and the other the daughter of the loser.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I will definitely be going back and reading the first novel written by this author, “I am Livia”. Although it takes place prior to this novel I do not believe the order will matter too much and I hope that it grants me a somewhat different perspective of Livia than the one I hold right now.

Seize the Dawn by Heather Graham

dawn Seize the Dawn by Heather Graham

Thank-you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for my e-galley reissue of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is set in the early fourteenth century during the Scottish Wars of Independence. It is based upon two fictional characters, Brendan and Eleanor, however the historical figure of William Wallace is also a central character of the novel.

Eleanor is an English countess, holding land in her own right (not likely) and Brendan is a Scottish rebel who fights alongside Wallace. They make an unlikely couple and yet from the very beginning it is obvious to the reader that their fiery interactions cover up a deep attraction to one another. They must each put aside their reservations about the other’s nationality before they can truly begin to trust each other and it is this that makes up the majority of the novel.

Therefore I would consider this novel an historical romance; the theme is most definitely the developing love between Brendan and Eleanor, but within the context of Wallace and his fight against Edward I of England.

The only qualm I have about the storyline us that some parts seemed a little too convenient and not true to life. I understand that the author strove to create a gripping and intriguing plot by peppering the novel with damsel-in-distress-saving heroics, a “whodunit” style murder mystery, pirates (yes that’s right, pirates) and various other clichés, but in my opinion it was overdone at times.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the relationship between Eleanor and Brendan and found it in itself to be intriguing enough to grasp my attention and keep it throughout. I also enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Wallace, who came across as a normal man with a resolute ideal for his country.

After Wallace’s defeat at Falkirk he flees to France and is received by the French king, who is shown as duplicitous by encouraging the Scottish rebels and then signing a peace treaty with Edward I. The author used this relative time of peace to focus her attention more upon her characters and less upon the fighting. Most of the portrayals of fighting are small skirmishes and not battles. Again, this is another reason that this novel fits nicely within the historical romance genre: nowhere within these pages will you find Bernard Cornwell style battle depictions.

Overall this was an interesting novel with a storyline that was a little too hyperbolic for my taste but that had vivid and complex characters that I enjoyed reading about. The characters themselves were not exaggerated, just the plot, which thankfully meant that I never became alienated from them and instead formed a connection to their plight. I was glad to find that the character of William Wallace wasn’t as embellished as he has previously been in a certain well-known film of the 90’s…