Madame Serpent: Catherine de Medici, #1 — Jean Plaidy

So.  Madame Serpent.

Catherine de Medici, according to this novel, was, like pretty much every other girl from a prominent family in this period¹:  she was raised to be a bargaining chip.  So she was trained, at a very young age, in the art of the poker face.

According to Jean Plaidy, that calm exterior hid a heart and mind that were willing to love, passionately passionate, and desperately unhappy.

The verdict: Fascinating lady, fascinating people, fascinating times.  The actual action sequences — and by action sequences, I mean the parts WHERE STUFF ACTUALLY HAPPENED, not, like, explosions and such — were really entertaining.

HOWEVER.

I suspect that, before the death of her husband, not a whole lot was really known about Catherine’s machinations — because, other than the aforementioned action, this book was about 250 pages of Catherine thinking OH, WOE, I CARRY SO MUCH LOVE FOR MY HUSBAND, WHO DOESN’T LOVE ME BECAUSE HE LOVES THAT BITCH DIANE DE POITIERS.  I WILL POISON HER.  NO, NO I WON’T.  NOT OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF MY HEART, BUT BECAUSE EVERYONE WILL KNOW I WAS BEHIND IT EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE THINKS I AM STUPID.  NOW I WILL WATCH THEM HAVE THEIR SEXY TIME THROUGH THIS HOLE I HAVE DRILLED INTO MY BEDROOM FLOOR.

Seriously.  250 pages.  While it had to’ve been hell to live through, it didn’t make for very entertaining reading.

I do, however, have high hopes for the next two books in the trilogy — because, from what I understand, that’s when Catherine really starts throwing her weight around.

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Wisconsin Death Trip, by Michael Lesy.

As planned, I borrowed a copy of Wisconsin Death Trip through interlibrary loan, and hoo boy — I’m going to have to buy myself a copy.  I haven’t read it start-to-finish — it isn’t that sort of book — but I’ve been picking it up and paging through it on a daily basis, examining the pictures and reading the newspaper excerpts.

Backing up:  After discovering a collection of 1890’s-era photographs¹ in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, the author combined those images with snippets he pulled from the archives of the local newspaper.  If you read A Reliable Wife and felt that the background noise of tragedy and horror was over-the-top and unbelievable — well, believe it.  Because it’s on every single page of this book:

The 80 year old mother of an imprisoned man threw herself in front of a train and was cut into 3 pieces.  She was crazed by the disgrace.  [7/5, State]

The 60 year old wife of a farmer in Jackson, Washington County, killed herself by cutting her throat with a sheep shears.  [8/3, State]

Mrs. John Sheehy of Manitowoc committed suicide recently by cutting her throat with a small case knife and was found dead in the woods by her house.  [4/24, State]

John Kuch, a farmer living in the town of Oakland, was found in his barn the other morning hanging by his neck. . . .No cause was known.  About 12 years ago, his father hanged himself in the same barn. [1/16, Local]

Lena Watson of Black River Falls gave birth to an illegitimate child and choked it to death.  [10/9, Town]

Frederick Windex, an aged farmer, committed suicide at Janesville by drowning himself in the pool where his little daughter had been accidentally drowned 2 years ago.  [10/30, State]

Wisconsin Death Trip is page after page after page of that.  It’s the kind of reading that will make you think about just how overused words like ‘misery’ and ‘tragedy’ and ‘heartbreak’ are — that we use them so often and so easily that when they are actually applicable, they seem washed-out and weak and trite.  And that sometimes when we read books or watch movies that involve situations that seem just a little TOO Look-At-My-Clever-Literary-Parallels!-y, we should remember that sometimes, this is the way that life unfolds.

If that makes any sense.

All that, and it’s still utterly fascinating — for me, each one of those newspaper excerpts was like a short story.  Well, a really upsetting, really short story with no explanation or resolution that was, unfortunately, not fiction.  But still sort of like a short story.  I’m always telling patrons that one of the things I love about Deadwood is that because the world those characters live in is so harsh, the decent things that they do shine all the brighter — with only this book to go on, it would be easy to assume that that brightness was absent in Black River Falls from 1885 – 1900.

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¹Many of which can be seen here.
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Book source:  Interlibrary loan.

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While reading Jean Plaidy’s Madame Serpent

…I discovered a torture device that was new to me¹.

The guy — who was being interrogated about the sudden death of the Dauphin — gets his legs and feet crushed by The Boot².

UGH.

THEN, as if that wasn’t enough, he gets drawn and quartered.  (Apparently, even though Count Montecuccoli confessed (because confessions under torture are oh-so-trustworthy), François III may have actually died of tuberculosis.)

And Catherine hasn’t even STARTED poisoning people yet.

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¹Not that I’m hugely well-versed in torture devices.  But I have seen a lot of horror movies, so… you know.  I’ve picked things up.  And there was that very first episode of Wire in the Blood.  SQUICK.  Love that show, but WOW.  I totally understand why some people were unable to keep watching.  (Though they’re missing out.  Robson Green, mmmmmm.)

²While I was reading up on that, I discovered the existence of the show Surviving History, which sadly only lasted one season.  It sounds like a pretty awesome premise, though maybe not for the super-squeamish.

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife.As promised, here I am, writing about A Reliable Wife.

I don’t know why I’ve been procrastinating.  Maybe because the crazypantness of the plotting gets me all worried about Releasing The Spoilers.  But I’ll be careful.

Wisconsin, 1907.  Ralph Truitt stands alone on a railway platform, waiting for a woman he’s never met — the woman he plans to marry.  His advertisement for A Reliable Wife (See what I did there?  Ho ho ho, my cleverness knows no bounds!) brought in mailbags of responses, but only Catherine Land’s “I am a simple, honest woman…” that spoke to him.

When she steps off of the train, though, he knows that she is something other than what she claimed in her letters — because the photograph she sent him was a picture of someone else.

Don’t fool yourself.  This is no Sleepless in Seattle.  There is romance, yes.  But it is a very dark, often-unpleasant sort of romance.  Surrounding the romance is deception, guilt, terror, lust, despair, obsession, vengeance, violence and a planned murder.  But don’t let the darkness scare you off, either, because there’s also hope and renewal, reclamation, recreating and rebirth¹.

The Verdict, in Brief:  Do the words Sexy Literary Historical Potboiler fill you with joy?  Then read it.

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The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan.

Or, in RoySpeak:  The Sea of Dead People in the Waves.

Gabry lives with her mother in Vista, a small Barrier town.  There, she’s always been sheltered from the larger world and mostly safe from the Mudo, though one of her mother’s main duties as the lighthouse keeper is to decapitate any zombies that wash ashore during high tide.  She’s comfortable in her town, she loves her mother and her friends.  She knows who she is, and where her life will lead.

[Movie Trailer Voice] But then one night, due to a single moment of rebellion, everything changes. [/Movie Trailer Voice]  Suddenly, all of her friends are dead, missing or imprisoned.  She discovers that everything she’s understood to be true… isn’t.  That not only is her entire life a lie, but that everything she understands about the world and everything she understands it to be… is wrong.

The Dead-Tossed Waves.

I was really looking forward to this book.  I was a huge, huge fan of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and I was looking forward to another story sent in the same world AS WELL AS some answers to the many, many questions that the first book raised.

On the day the book arrived — back in, well, a long time ago — I ripped the package open, tossed it (the package) over my shoulder, and started reading.  I made it ten pages in before I shut the book.

The next day, I tried again, with the same result.

Not a good sign.

Verdict, in brief:

For me?  No.  Just… no.  My reasons are below the cut and will contain spoilers.

For other readers?  It depends.  If Bella Swan’s self-loathing wasn’t an issue, and Zoey Redbird’s inability to focus on MORTAL DANGER because she’s so busy thinking about her love life wasn’t an issue, and their shared ability to attract every single straight male in the vicinity despite their equal-yet-different lamenesses wasn’t an issue, well, then you’re a leg up on me already.

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Post-Reliable Wife reading.

A Reliable Wife.

After finishing A Reliable Wife (Which was crazypants in the best possible way, and which I will write about at length SOON), I put in three book requests at the library.

Coming, hopefully soon, will be:

  1. Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, by H. G. Cocks  (According to Amazon, the author’s first name is ‘Harry’, which could either be the Worst Thing Ever or the Best Thing Ever, depending on the career of the person so named.  I mean, it would be a great name for a porn star.  Or, I guess, for someone who writes about the history of sexuality.  Which Cocks has.  But I’m going to stick to thinking of him as H. G., because it’s way less distracting.)
  2. Another one about the classifieds:  Strange Red Cow: and Other Curious Classified Ads from the Past, by Sara Bader.
  3. And Robert Goolrick mentioned this last one in his Acknowledgments (well, he called it his Beholden, but if I did that I’d be worried that people would think/call me pretentious):  Wisconsin Death Trip, by Michael Lesy, which sounds nightmarish but also fascinating.