Book Reviews

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Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey

Unlike the other biographies we’ve looked at this year (Roper’s Life of More, Cavendish’s Life of Cardinal Wolsey, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson), Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians is a work marked by distance seen through the fresh eyes of a new generation.

Sister Queens

One woman as queen had several children. Her sister only gave birth to a living daughter. Both lived sad lives. Katherine of Aragon and her sister Joanna (Juana) found themselves at the mercy of others.

Julia Fox in Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile examines the lives of these two women. They were daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Spain. As monarchs, they joined the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile to reign in Spain together. These powerful monarchs sought advantageous marriages for their daughters with the hope of gaining greater Spanish influence throughout Europe. Katherine and Joanna became pawns in the marriage game.

The Returned

What would you do if suddenly one of your loved ones who had died 10, 20 or even 50 years ago stood at your door alive and well? That’s the premise of The Returned, the debut novel by Jason Mott.

In 1966, Lucille and Harold Hargrave lost their only son Jacob on his eighth birthday when he drowned in a lake not far from where his party had taken place. Harold and friends set off to find Jacob and Harold carried Jacob's limp, dead body out of the lake. Fifty years later, an eight-year-old Jacob appears at their door with an agent of the International Bureau of the Returned, the agency handling those who have been recently returning from the dead.

Lucille and Harold have learned to live their lives after losing Jacob. They obviously missed seeing their son grow-up, and their lives were not the same without him. They are fifty years older and must learn to be parents again to a young boy.

Lucille writes in a note to Harold, "I don't know how this child, this second Jacob, came to be. But honestly, I don't care. He's given us something we never thought we could have again: a chance to remember what love is... A chance to love without fear."

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was, during the last 40 years of his life, perhaps the best known man of letters in England. And in James Boswell (1740-1795), a lawyer from Scotland with a lot of free time, it seems, he found perhaps the most diligent chronicler in the field of biography.

Boswell’s Life of Johnson is probably the best known and most lauded biography in English. Most of the stories one hears about the eminent, but rather eccentric, Johnson come, sometimes accurately, sometimes muddled, from Boswell's account.

Johnson himself wrote biographies, but these were rather short affairs. His most famous effort in biography was his Lives of the English Poets, which consists of short biographies of the most famous English poets up until Johnson’s lifetime. Though Johnson was a voluminous reader, and a man with a tremendous memory for what he had read, his research into the poets was nothing compared to Boswell's own efforts on his behalf.

Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck

Just released in May, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck examines the turbulent, fascinating and ultimately tragic life of Zelda Fitzgerald through the eyes of a fictional psychiatric nurse.

Better known as the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald’s presence was as wild and controversial as her husband’s. She was a Southern beauty, one of the original flappers of the 1920s, an accomplished writer, dancer and painter, and sadly, a victim of mental illness.

Call Me Zelda begins in February 1932 at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, part of Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, with Zelda’s admission for an emotional breakdown and her introduction to Anna Howard, the nurse assigned to care for her.