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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

The determined hunt for a planet that doesn't exist

The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe - Thomas Levenson

This short but fascinating book works as both an illustration of how scientific ideas advance and an engaging focused history that stretches from Newton, whose work crowned the scientific revolution and helped inspire Europe’s Age of Enlightenment, to Einstein, who spent the WWI years absorbed in his nascent theories of relativity which changed the way we look at the world and made possible most further developments in science and technology. Framing the book’s story is the hunt for a missing planet, known as Vulcan (not Mr. Spock’s planet, unfortunately).


In 1846 Urbain Le Verrier, a French scientist, used the mathematics of Newton's theories of gravity to predict the existence and location of Neptune, which was still undiscovered, based on slight anomalies in the orbit of Uranus. With almost perfect accuracy, Le Verrier was able to tell skywatchers where to point their telescopes and several found the planet immediately, a highly exciting moment in physics and astronomy that was downright inspiring to read about.


So when Le Verrier used Newton’s formulas to postulate the existence of a planet between the Sun and Mercury based on anomalies in Mercury’s orbit, everyone assumed he was correct--both Newton and Le Verrier had proven themselves almost god-like in their insights after all. Scientists spent 50 years looking for the planet they called Vulcan--some actually thought they had found it and no one was willing to jettison Newton’s universal law of gravitation--until 1915 when Einstein used the theories of relativity and the bending of spacetime by gravity to prove that Vulcan doesn’t, and couldn't, exist.


With biographical sketches, some history of the era, and accessible explanations of the involved science, The Hunt for Vulcan is informative and highly entertaining.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-determined-hunt-for-a-planet-that-doesnt-exist

Free time travel right now on Audible

The Very First Damned Thing: An Author-Read Audio Exclusive - Jodi Taylor

This prequel short story for Jodi Taylor's The Chronicles of St. Mary's time travel series is free now on Audible, even though the Kindle version hasn't been released yet and will be $.99 in the US when it is. 


It's also read by Jodi Taylor herself, and she's a great narrator. There are about 4 other short stories connected to the series, and all of them are currently being offered for no cost on Audible.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/free-time-travel-right-now-on-audible
Three day quote challenge--day 3. This is kind of a cheat because it's a reblog of a quote I posted in the summer, but war and Peace is one of my all time favorite books and this snippet captures some of what I love. Thank you again, Brokentune.

About the challenge:

I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.

3. Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.
Reblogged from Reflections:
"They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject--money; and because their youth was gone ... But for both of them they were pleasant tears ..."
War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear, Leo Tolstoy

Impoverished widow Anna Mikhailovna accepts 700 roubles from her dear friend Countess Rostov so she can purchase her son's military uniform. 


War and Peace, Part One, Chapter XIV 

Three day quote challenge--day 2

Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde

Thanks for the nomination Brokentune!


Here's Hamlet with a moment of self-reflection in Jasper Fforde's  Something Rotten, book 4 in his Thursday Next series:


“Sorry," [Hamlet] said, rubbing his temples. "I don't know what came over me. All of a sudden I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”



And here's a better cover


I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:



1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you. 


2.  Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.


3.  Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Three day quote challenge--day 1

Thanks for the nomination Brokentune!


I've had song lyrics stuck inside my head most of my life, including but not limited to every song the Beatles ever sang. I've always loved this line snippet from "Hey, Jude",  a song, written by Paul to cheer up John's son Julian when his parents were getting a divorce.  



It's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.



Paul holding Julian's hand back in the day.


I'm supposed to nominate 3 other Booklikes bloggers to take up the three day challenge, but I'm just going to leave it open for anyone else who wants to give it a go. Here are the rules:



1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you. 


2.  Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie or from anyone who inspires.


3.  Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Born in a brothel, died in a mansion

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic - Margaret A. Oppenheimer

Born in a brothel just weeks after the start of the American Revolutionary War, Betsy Bowen’s life may not have started auspiciously, but by the time Eliza Jumel Burr died 90 years later the Civil War had ended and she had transformed herself into a prominent citizen who had mostly disguised her past, a collector of art who was fluent in two languages, and a businesswoman who had accumulated so much wealth her heirs and heir-wannabes battled for years over the property she left behind, one case going all the way to the Supreme Court.


And yet, if she is remembered at all today it’s because her second marriage was to the notorious but apparently still charming Aaron Burr, a former vice president who was disgraced after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and to add insult to injury in Burr’s biographies she’s often described dismissively as a former prostitute, which is probably not accurate. What’s ironic about the way Eliza Jumel Burr  has been misrepresented is that the truth of her astounding path of upward mobility is far more dramatic than any of the falsehoods told about her.


This captivating biography of Eliza not only rights those wrongs, it’s a real page turner. Chapters tend to end on an exciting note, so I often found myself reading much longer than I had planned. While the book is focused on Eliza, it’s also an interesting cultural history of life in the years after the American and French Revolutions--Eliza’s  first husband was a savvy and warmhearted merchant from France, and the couple lived in that country for a while after The Reign of Terror had settled down.


Though well researched there are gaps in Eliza’s life, especially her early years, because records left behind don’t tell much about what she was doing then, but I still found her story moving, even romantic. When Eliza met Stephen Jumel, the man she would soon marry, she had care of an unrelated young boy whose mother had died, something that was apparently not unusual at the time. Jumel generously paid for them both to have French lessons and treated Eliza’s charge as a son. Later the couple they adopted one of Eliza’s nieces who was brought up by them with lots of love and every advantage money could buy.


There were definitely ups and downs in the couple’s relationship, especially as they grew older, but I was struck by how much Stephen trusted Eliza to make astute business decisions and help manage their growing estate. After Stephen was killed in a carriage accident she was able to continue to increase her financial assets, making her a very wealthy women and bringing her to the attention of perennially broke Aaron Burr, who ran through some of her fortune before she managed to divorce him--being a husband he, of course, had charge of her money.


Eliza wasn’t a conventional women of her time because she was unable or unwilling to maintain a facade to hide her emotions and ambitions behind a mask of daintiness and allure, which meant the upper echelons of  society were never as accepting of her as she wanted them to be. But her accomplishments and life trajectory are astounding and make a fascinating tale that is well told in this book.


I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss at no cost. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/born-in-a-brothel-died-in-a-mansion

Elizabeth I as a Renaissance prince

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince - Lisa Hilton

If you wanted to create a character for your novel or play, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with someone as interesting and story-worthy as England’s Elizabeth I. After her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded Elizabeth was declared a bastard, but she continued with her rigorous education and the hardships she experienced as a result of her demotion helped make her politically savvy, a trait that saved her neck more than once and ultimately put her on the throne. I’ve enjoyed several biographies about Elizabeth I, but this one has extras that make it stand out.


Lisa Hilton’s premise is that Elizabeth saw herself as a Renaissance prince, and while Elizabeth was happy to invoke the conventions of courtly females when it suited her, she lived in an age when royal gender was more fluid than we might think now. Hilton spends some time describing the Renaissance era and what being a Renaissance prince would mean, which leads her to a discussion of contemporary literature, period attitudes, and Machiavelli. Elizabeth’s relatively long life is covered thoroughly, but more space is given to art analysis, cultural philosophies, and intellectual history than I’ve read elsewhere, which I found fascinating. I’ve read other books by Hilton, my favorite being Horror of Love about Nancy Mitford, and I appreciate the broad scope and thoughtful scrutiny she brings to her subjects, this book about Elizabeth being no exception.


I read an ebook review copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss. Review opinions are mine.



--Among the artwork discussed in this biography is Elizabeth in a Judgement of Paris allegory with Juno, Minerva and Venus--the artist is Joris Hoefnagel. The painting hung in her court at Whitehall where it and its message of regal power were seen by thousands of visitors. 


File:Joris Hoefnagel or Hans Eworth - Queen Elizabeth I & the Three Goddesses, ca 1569.jpg

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/elizabeth-i-as-a-renaissance-prince

Ted Cruz as Beowulf: Matching Candidates With the Books They Sound Like

Around the World in 80 Days - Jules Verne The Adventures of Tom Sawyer/Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain Beowolf - Anonymous, Gummere Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens Persuasion: Large Print Edition - Jane Austen The Aeneid - Virgil, Robert Fitzgerald

A New York Times article matches the speech patterns of 13(!) American presidential candidates with the books they sound like. There's a fascinating graphic that puts candidates and books on a sort of coordinate plane grid based on where their language use falls from simple to complex (y axis) and negative to positive (x axis).


Most negative? Rand Paul, who's surrounded by the Aeneid and Oliver Twist.


Most simple? Donald Trump (surprised?), who's next to The Legends of King Arthur and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Hillary's on the positive and complex side of the plane, and most closely matches Austen's Persuasion (which isn't on the grid but is mentioned at the bottom of the article). Ted Cruz is matched with Beowulf. 



Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/ted-cruz-as-beowulf-matching-candidates-with-the-books-they-sound-like

Noir science fiction with robots in Antarctica

Our Lady of the Ice - Cassandra Rose Clarke

Dark, gritty and inventive, I was drawn to this book by it’s premise--robots and humans living together uneasily under Antarctic domes. Throw in a ruined amusement park, exploitation by “mainlanders” back in South America, and the fact that the robots are evolving and there was no way I could resist. The world-building is fantastic, but what kept me from loving this story more is the writing style. The author is known for her YA books, but for my taste she tried too hard to make this an “adult” book--though it may be that I just don’t enjoy noir fiction.There’s not a scrap of humor--no ironic self-reflection by any of the characters and no moments of comic relief--which for me gave it a sort of wooden melodramatic tone that kept me more disengaged from the characters than I would have liked.


I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied by the publisher. Review opinions are mine.


Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/noir-science-fiction-with-robots-in-antarctica

The life of Queen Victoria’s most rebellious daughter

Queen Victoria's Mysterious Daughter: A Biography of Princess Louise - Lucinda Hawksley

Of all of Queen Victoria’s nine children, Princess Louise was perhaps the most un-Victorian, making her a very interesting royal to read about. Louise painted and sculpted, hung around with pre-Raphaelites, and was a member of the Aesthetic movement. She also embraced exercise, admired unconventional women like novelist George Eliot, supported women’s rights when even her libertine brother Bertie believed females should be compliant and submissive, refused to marry a foreign prince, almost certainly had love affairs, and  may have had a child out of wedlock--which is perhaps why more than 75 years after her death the files on Princess Louise at the Royal Archives remain closed and unavailable for researchers, as if there is something about her that is so shocking it still must be hidden. Even with that source restriction, Lucinda Hawksley has put together a fascinating and intriguing account of Princess Louise, and  through her a picture of Britain and its extended royal family from the Victorian age, when her mother was queen, to the dawn of WWI, when her nephew Kaiser Wilhelm was causing trouble in Germany.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/the-life-of-queen-victorias-most-rebellious-daughter

A dual duel biography

War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation - John Sedgwick

I didn’t know much about the 1804 duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr before I read this double biography, but that (of course) didn’t stop me from having an opinion: Hamilton, good; Burr (the “victor”), bad. Learning more about them was revelatory and provided some well needed nuance. John Sedgwick takes readers back to the beginnings of each man's life, revealing surprising similarities and stark contrasts. Both men fought in the Revolutionary War, practiced law in New York City, and held political office--Hamilton worked closely with George Washington and was the first Treasury Secretary, while Burr was Vice President during Thomas Jefferson’s initial term as President. But their contrasts started at birth.  


Alexander Hamilton was born out of wedlock on a Caribbean island, and then orphaned early and put to work. At twelve he had charge of the Beekman and Cruger shipping business, a job that would have been daunting for most men twice his age. When he was sixteen a ferocious hurricane ravaged the island, but instead of hiding inside Hamilton ventured out to see the storm and then wrote a dramatic account of it for the island’s newspaper. His literary skills brought him to the attention of Hugh Knox, a local minister, who arranged for Hamilton to be educated in America. Hamilton never returned to the island.  


Aaron Burr initially led a more privileged life than Hamilton because he was born into a kind of religious dynasty. His father was a minister and the second president of a prestigious New Jersey college that later became Princeton University, and his grandfather was Jonathan Edwards, a Calvinist minister and a leader of the Great Awakening religious revival of the 1730’s-40’s. Maybe because of his background Burr was driven to accelerate and excel in his studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree when he was just sixteen. Burr was a great admirer of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and he made sure that his beloved daughter Theodosia was as well educated as any boy.


Sedgwick’s penetrating account of the eventually fatal rivalry between the two men provides fascinating insights into the personalities involved and the history of their time. The love lives of several Founding Fathers are laid bare and I was intrigued by deportment differences between Federalists and Republicans. Those supporting the Federalist party made formal bows upon meeting and considered the handshake a vulgar Republican custom. George Washington in particular couldn’t bare to be touched. One man who patted Washington on the shoulder to win a bet deeply regretted it afterwards, being almost undone by Washington’s cold stare.


Federalists and Republicans even admired different doctors--Republicans preferred old fashioned bleeding and purging styles of medicine while Federalists like Hamilton favored gentler cures with doctors who allowed the body time to heal itself. America’s polarized politics have a long history.


While I couldn’t understand how he did it, I enjoyed reading about reactions to Hamilton’s financial alchemy. He somehow managed to turn the country’s prodigious debt into money that could be invested in things that would help the young nation grow economically, like canals and roads, but Republicans like Thomas Jefferson, who envisioned a society made up of gentlemen farmers, considered the whole business unseemly.

Moving, informative, and entertaining, the book takes the story forward many years after the Hamilton/Burr duel, including Burr’s audacious attempt to hijack some Louisiana Purchase lands to found his own republic and ending with Burr’s death in 1836.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/a-dual-duel-biography

Fascinating account of the year that allies became enemies

1946: The Making of the Modern World - Victor Sebestyen

I don’t often become completely engrossed in a book of straight history, usually I read historical biographies to get a sense of the past, but this book was hard to put down. With its detailed and in-depth account of events in the year following WWII, focusing on the causes and early stages of the Cold War, 1946: The Making of the Modern World has the most fascinating account of the mid to late twentieth century that I’ve read anywhere. Developments are presented chronologically, starting with an early dispute between the US and the Soviets over oil fields in Iran, but because the background and future impact of each event is included this book is much more than a glorified timeline of how WWII allies very quickly became enemies once the war was over.


Thoroughly researched, the book is highly readable and written with insight and clarity. Its scope goes well beyond Europe and Japan, also including India’s struggles toward independence, France’s attempts to reassert itself in Indochina, the contentious and difficult formations of Israel and Pakistan, colonialism’s dying gasps, and China’s simultaneously occurring communist revolution and war with Japan--one of the many things I learned is that 25% of WWII’s fatalities were in China, more than any other country except the USSR. Some of the most interesting, even eye-opening, parts are revelations about the thoughts, words, and deeds of political leaders, including Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill, Clement Attlee, Stalin, MacArthur, Hirohito, Mao, Chiang Kai-shek, Mei-Ling Soong, Nehru, Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah,  David Ben Gurion, and Menachem Begin.


If I had any doubts about the difficulties of occupation or the massive extent of devastation, suffering and displacement that continued well after WWII fighting was over, those uncertainties would have been dispelled forever by this book. Because it was years in the making the author was able to interview many people with personal experiences of the time, giving events a human face and adding poignancy and impact to the history.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/fascinating-account-of-the-year-that-allies-became-enemies

Entertaining and enlightening

My Life on the Road - Gloria Steinem

Reading this lively memoir of the vagabond life Gloria Steinem has led--first by necessity and then because she embraced it--made me want to hit the road myself in the hope that I could have even a fraction of her experiences. The varied places and people she’s encountered in her travels give her rich, interesting perspectives on the history and zeitgeist of the times she writes about, which extend from the later years of the Great Depression until today. It makes the book a fascinating, even inspiring combination of personal story and history that’s a lot of fun to read--and because this is Gloria Steinem, readers also get an enlightening front row seat for the burgeoning women’s movement of the 1960’s-70’s and its continuing development.


When she was a young child Steinem’s father ran a lakeside music venue in the summer, but once fall came he’d pack everyone in the car to spend the rest of the year driving around the country buying and then selling junk or antiques or whatever, earning enough of a profit to make it to the next town--an enterprise in which  the whole family participated. Steinem thought she longed for a permanent home, but when she reached adulthood that didn’t happen. After college Steinem got a 2-year fellowship to study in India, but when she showed up at the ashram of Vinoba Bhave, one of the leaders in the land reform movement inspired by Gandhi, almost everyone was gone. Caste riots had broken out in nearby, now cordoned off villages, so the ashram residents had formed teams to slip under police barriers and travel from village to village hoping to help contain further violence. One more team wanted to go out, but they needed a women so Steinem was drafted, her first experience of traditional talking circles and modern community activism.


Working as a journalist back in the US, Steinem was dismissed by some of her male colleagues as a token “pretty girl” which helped lead her to the women’s movement and a continued life of organizing, activism, and travel. If you are expecting something dour and humorless, that’s not what you’ll find in this book. Steinem comes across as warmhearted, eager to learn from the people around her, and open to new experiences, all of which makes her wonderful company.  I enjoyed learning more about mid-century politics and the growth of the women’s movement, but I also loved the personal glimpses she gives of people as diverse as Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller, who was a personal friend, and Frank Sinatra, who Steinem spent one awkward Thanksgiving dinner with--he didn’t talk much to anyone but he did let them watch while he put on an engineer’s hat and ran his toy trains around an elaborate track.

Steinem even works in interesting bits of older history, mentioning for instance that the American Constitution is partially modeled on the Iroquois Confederacy, but when Benjamin Franklin invited two Iroquois men to the Constitutional Convention to act as advisers, one of their first comments was something like--why aren’t there any women at this meeting? Good question.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/entertaining-and-enlightening

Back in the USA

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante: A Maggie Hope Mystery - Susan Elia MacNeal

I always enjoy spending time with Maggie Hope, and the fifth adventure is no exception. In this outing her code-breaking and espionage skills have taken her back across the Atlantic to the US, her childhood home, ostensibly to act as Winston Churchill’s secretary while he confers with President Roosevelt in Washington DC. The attack on Pearl Harbor means America has finally joined the fight, but someone is threatening the joint war effort by trying discredit Mrs. Roosevelt with a manufactured scandal, so Maggie is temporarily assigned to the First Lady’s staff to make sure nothing jeopardizes the Allied alliance.


I greatly enjoyed the fictional portrayals of FDR and Eleanor, and we finally get to meet the aunt who raised Maggie in Boston, an outspoken  women who firmly believes her niece's prodigious intellectual abilities are being wasted in her job as Winston’s “secretary”, a supposition Maggie is not allowed to correct since she’s undercover. Other historical figures in the book include German rocket maker Wernher von Braun and, surprising to me, Walt Disney, who apparently took time away from Mickey Mouse and his cartoon friends to make propaganda films for the US government.


As always the story skillfully weaves multiple plotlines and points of view, which allows readers to keep up with the actions of Maggie’s Nazi mother and eccentric genius father back in England. Romance is in the mix, but not the focus, and while this book isn’t as dark as some of the early volumes it still addresses serious issues, most notably racism. The series is following the events of WWII closely, so I appreciate the Historical Notes at the end of the book that separate fact from fiction and name the author’s sources. I love this series--the books keep me glued to the page and have greatly enhanced my understanding of WWII dynamics.


I read an ebook advanced review copy of this book, supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/back-in-the-usa

Pawpaw--the forgotten fruit

Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit - Michael W. Twitty, Andrew Moore

Picture a flavor that combines banana and mango, or imagine a fruit  nicknamed custard apple, and what you have in your mind is the pawpaw, a fruit of tropical origin that somehow worked its way well up into North America. First eaten by megafauna like woolly mammoths, pawpaws were later enjoyed by Native Americans and early settlers. Thomas Jefferson had a grove of pawpaw trees at Monticello and considered the possibility of turning them into a cultivated crop, enslaved Africans who collected pawpaws to supplement their diets were reminded of fruits from their homelands, and when Lewis and Clark went on their exploration of western America eating local pawpaws helped them survive when they were low on provisions. So why aren’t pawpaws around today? That’s the thing, they are around. Pawpaw trees still grow wild in 26 states. Most of us have just forgotten about them.


I had almost but not quite forgotten about the pawpaw--I just never knew they were real. When I was growing up we used to belt out a folk song with the refrain “Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!” but I didn’t realize pawpaws actually existed until not long ago when I was on a birding walk along the edge of the C&O Canal outside Washington DC. The guide pointed out some birds in a pawpaw tree on the other side of the bank, stopping me in my tracks by waking up my atavistic memory of the song and making me feel like Alice in some strange Wonderland created by ghost lyrics.


This book gives the whole fascinating, satisfying scoop on pawpaws, and will be especially interesting to anyone whose interests include plants or food or history or mystery or even wildlife--pawpaw trees are the only larval host of the exotic looking zebra swallowtail butterfly. The author made it his mission to research everything known about pawpaws and he takes readers along as he  attends pawpaw festivals, talks to people who remember eating pawpaws as children, harvests fruit with farmers propagating pawpaws for a growing niche market, and searches out pawpaw trees still growing wild right under our noses (one at Jefferson’s Monticello that the tour guides didn’t know existed!) He’s especially interested in finding trees that are descendants of the ones which bore prize winning fruits in the pawpaw contest of 1916, which adds a little suspense to the story.


Engaging and informative, this book is also strikingly beautiful, even when you remove the very attractive dust jacket, because someone made the whimsical but fitting decision to color it like a pawpaw fruit--the outer hardcover is deep green and the inner endpapers are a very bright yellow. The book also includes a map of the American pawpaw belt and 8 pages of color photos.



Photo from Blue Ridge Discovery Center blog  

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/pawpaw-the-forgotten-fruit

Wife and daughters of “mad, bad, and dangerous to know

Lady Byron and Her Daughters - Julia Markus


Annabella Milbanke was still a very young women when she met Lord Byron, but she wasn’t going to throw herself at him the way many others in her set did. Independent, highly intelligent, and well educated, she actually felt a little sorry for the poet. After hearing him complain once about loneliness, she wrote him a letter offering to be his friend, but no more. That started their courtship, but it took several years for Byron to convince her to marry him. Reading about their romance in this fascinating, eye-opening, multi-generational biography, I wanted to leap through the pages, grab her by the shoulders, and shout, “No! Don’t do it!” But even after everything that happened in the short time they managed to live together as husband and wife, and all the ways her eyes were eventually opened to the kind of man Bryon really was, it sounds like she didn’t regret her decision to wed the original Byronic “hero”.


My previous encounters with Lord Byron usually left me with a feeling of good-natured indulgence toward him, “Oh, that crazy poet!” But while reading about him in this book I experienced a rising sense of horror--was he rabidly abusive because he was insane, as other members of his family were rumored to have been, was he “just” a cruel, self-indulgent beast of a man warped by a difficult childhood?  Regency era morality may have been part of the problem, but his actions went well beyond even those norms.


Byron berated and threatened Annabella from the first days of their marriage. She had no idea then why his behavior toward her changed so quickly, and she didn’t know that part of the reason Byron wanted to marry her was to cover up the incestuous relationship he had with his sister, Augusta Leigh. He also had affairs with many other married women including Annabella’s aunt, Lady Melbourne, and her sister-in-law, Caroline Lamb. After learning all this Annabella still hoped to “save” him, but following the birth of their daughter he threw her out, never saw his daughter Ada again, happily used Annabella's family money to fund his expensive eccentric lifestyle and adventures on the Continent--including outfitting a Greek band of freedom fighters--and then died overseas with Annabella’s name on his lips, unable to complete whatever last message he had for her, leaving her once again distraught.


Unknown and surprising to me, Annabella has been castigated and considered a villain by many of Byron’s  biographers, a viewpoint Julia Markus counters forcefully in this book. According to her research many of their facts were wrong, and the “genius excuses cruelty”  defense of Byron is a foul argument in any case.


After her separation from Byron, Annabella became a politically liberal philanthropist, funding and setting up schools, assisting and advocating for the poor, and opposing slavery. The “daughters” in  the title refers to both Ada, the brilliant child of Annabella and Byron, but also to Medora, Byron’s daughter by his sister. Medora was a troubled young lady and Annabella unofficially adopted her after she was essentially abandoned by her own mother. Ada became famous because of her computer science insights, long before there were any computers to be had, and she can probably thank her mother for those abilities because Annabella was also drawn to and gifted in mathematics--early in their relationship Byron called Annabella “my Princess of Parallelograms”.  


In addition to Annabella, her two daughters and her three grandchildren, this multi-person biography also has interesting side trips into into the lives of a number of other notable people of the nineteenth century, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Annabella’s first biography.  


I was initially put off by the writing style of this book--it felt choppy and sometimes awkward to me--a fact I mention only because that sense didn’t last much longer than the first chapter. If other readers feel the same way and consider putting the book down after a few pages I would advise sticking with it in case their experience continues to mirror mine. I soon became enthralled, so either the writing style changed, or I adjusted to its flow, or there wasn’t much  problem with it to begin with.


I read an ebook advanced review copy of this book supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through Edelweiss. Review opinions are mine.

Source: http://jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/wife-and-daughters-of-mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know