(Review) Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classic. Published in Norway-1909. First published in America by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1936. My paperback copy-1998.
Genre: Scandinavian historical fiction. Women and literature. Classic literature.
Pages: 162.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of women’s stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Sigrid Undset: Goodreads author page.

Sigrid Undset: winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Further links of interest:
Catholic Education

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949)

11th century. Norway and Iceland.

Gunnar’s Daughter is Vigdis Gunnarsdatter. She is the surviving child of Gunnar of Vadin. He is the owner of a large manor near a river in Norway.

When the story begins the description of Vigdis shows she is spoiled, quiet, stoic, and richly dressed. She had to be encouraged to be friendly to guests in their home. The guests are 2 men named Veterlide and Ljot. They are from Iceland. Ljot (pronounced Yot) is the younger man who is quickly smitten with Vigdis. A romantic relationship began between the young couple, but her father said no to marriage.

My Thoughts:

I recently read a historical fiction story titled The Historians. This story is a Scandinavian historical fiction with a setting in Sweden during WWII. It was through this story I was introduced to a list of Scandinavian historical fiction books on Goodreads. There are several lists on Goodreads that have Sigrid Undset’s books. I searched online for more information about Undset. Her life itself is an interesting story, especially during the World War II years.

I love big books. I love chunkster books that take weeks to read. I love long sentences and paragraphs. I love lengthy descriptive writing. I love long tales that need several pots of tea to finish. Gunnar’s Daughter is not that kind of book. It is a big and powerful story, but it’s cradled in a small package. This tells me excellent stories can be written in less than 200 pages.

Before reading this story, I knew little about Scandinavian history and culture, especially during the Middle Ages. During the time period of Gunnar’s Daughter, Christianity is new to Norway. King Olav is a Christian. He has embraced this religion by being baptized. After Vigdis talked with Olav, she too asked to be baptized. But in regard to understanding the belief system of Christianity this is not taught. Being baptized didn’t change Vigdis’s heart. It didn’t change her goal for revenge. Gunnar’s Daughter is not a Christian story. Christianity is new to the Scandinavian land; people have not come to regard certain ways of doing things as pagan. I wanted to make this point because it effects the story.

Vigdis is a picture of what happens to women when they are sexually abused. Her abuse is not described in graphic detail. The lasting trauma of her abuse is a large part of the story. Her response to men. Her response to life choices. Her deep depression. The anger and bitterness are bigger than forgiveness and love.

The story reminds me of an oral tale or saga. A story people knew by memory and told to others during the Middle Ages. Much later it was written down for reading. The sentences and conversations are short for memory purpose.

Ljot is a character I don’t want to like. I don’t want to feel sorry for him. Sigrid Undset created a character who is an ogre yet I feel sympathy.

The ending is heartbreaking. It reminds me of a poem my mother loved.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some examples of themes in the story: family honor, revenge, rape, shame, courage, obsession, redemption, and jealousy.

(Review) Dracula by Bram Stoker

My paperback edition.
The 1st American edition in 1899 published by Doubleday and McClure.

Publisher and Publication Date: Norton Critical Edition. W. W. Norton & Company Ltd. 1997. First published in 1897.
Genre: Fiction. Horror.
Pages: 512.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of horror and vampires.
Rating: Very good.

Link at Amazon

Other links of interest:
Notable Biographies
Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

The Norton edition is based on the original text.
The story itself starts on page 9 and ends on page 327.
The book begins with 17 pages of content material and preface. Starting on page 331 through page 488 is historical background, critical reviews, adaptions to film, theories about the story, a chronology timeline for Stoker, and a bibliography.
The story is told in letters and journal entries by several characters.
A young man from England, Jonathan Harker, is the first person who tells their story. He became a guest of Dracula at his castle on the border of Transylvania and 2 other states. The castle is located in the Carpathian mountains.
When Jonathan reaches the town of Bistritz he stays in the Golden Krone Hotel. The landlord and wife plead with Jonathan not to go on this journey to see Dracula. Jonathan thinks their behavior is “ridiculous.”
The first several pages of the story read like a travel log. However, Jonathan is at the castle a short time when he is troubled about this strange place and Dracula.

My Thoughts:
This is the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve read Dracula. In the past, I’d been impacted by the films telling the story of Dracula. I was enticed to view Dracula as a character who was partly human; albeit taken over by a horrible curse. I viewed Dracula in an almost romantic-soiled-cursed-to be pitied creature. This time I do not have the same views. I see Dracula as a predator and murderer. There is nothing charming or romantic about him. There is nothing to be pitied. He is calculating, manipulating, a seducer, tempter, groomer of the innocent, and a stalker. He is the description of a sexual predator/abuser and murderer.

I take issue with critical reviews stating Dracula was written secretly about repressed sexual appetites, because I don’t read minds and I don’t know what Stoker was thinking when he wrote Dracula. It is fun for some people to wonder and write critical articles explaining why an author wrote a certain story-I can understand their role. The articles in the Norton edition are interesting to read what might have been the reasons for Stoker writing this story.

The women in the story are described as innocent and desirable, or fearful and desirable. Mina is the female character who shows intelligence, responsibility, courage, and loyalty. She is a character who demonstrates heroism. She is a person who is admired by the other characters.

I’m not a fan of stories in the form of letters and journal entries. It makes it difficult to become apart of the story. Dracula is different. I believe the breakup (the word I’m using to describe the entries) helps give the story an anticipation of the horror taking place. It creates an atmosphere of mystery. It creates a disunity and discord. And, some of us really like organized thought and proper behavior!

Is the story scary? Yes and no. It is disturbing. It is strange. It is shocking and grisly.

Some examples of themes in the story: marriage, courage, death, bravery, perseverance, and abuse.

Dracula is a story with both internal and external conflicts. The external conflict is Dracula, the vampire who is a predator looking for victims. The internal conflicts are not as easy to spot. Some examples of internal conflicts: moral dilemma, view a person or creature in reality (the reality of who they are), and to take the “life” of a horrible creature.

Quote of the Week

“St. Francis and St. Benedight,
Bless this house from wicked wight,
From the nightmare and the Goblin
That is hight Good Fellow Robin.
Keep it from all evil spirits,
Fairies, weasels, bats, and ferrets
From curfew time to the next prime.”
“A House Blessing.” William Cartwright (1611-1643).

(Review) The Boy King: Book Three of The Seymour Saga by Janet Wertman

Publisher and Publication Date: Published by Janet Wertman. September 30, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Tudor history. Tudor era.
Pages: 374.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy from Janet Wertman, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction and Tudor history.
Rating: Very good.

Book tour landing page: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble

About The Author:
Janet Ambrosi Wertman grew up within walking distance of three bookstores and a library on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – and she visited all of them regularly. Her grandfather was an antiquarian bookdealer who taught her that there would always be a market for quirky, interesting books. He was the one who persuaded Janet’s parents to send her to the French school where she was taught to aspire to long (grammatically correct) sentences as the hallmark of a skillful writer. She lived that lesson until she got to Barnard College. Short sentences were the rule there. She complied. She reached a happy medium when she got to law school – complicated sentences alternating with short ones in a happy mix.

Janet spent fifteen years as a corporate lawyer in New York, she even got to do a little writing on the side (she co-authored The Executive Compensation Answer Book, which was published by Panel Publishers back in 1991). But when her first and second children were born, she decided to change her lifestyle. She and her husband transformed their lives in 1997, moving to Los Angeles and changing careers. Janet became a grant writer (and will tell anyone who will listen that the grants she’s written have resulted in more than $30 million for the amazing non-profits she is proud to represent) and took up writing fiction.

There was never any question about the topic of the fiction: Janet has harbored a passion for the Tudor Kings and Queens since her parents let her stay up late to watch the televised Masterpiece Theatre series (both The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R) when she was *cough* eight years old. One of the highlights of Janet’s youth was being allowed to visit the Pierpont Morgan Library on a day when it was closed to the public and examine (though not touch!) books from Queen Elizabeth’s personal library and actual letters that the young Princess Elizabeth (technically Lady Elizabeth…) had written.

The Boy King is third book in the Seymour Saga, the story of the unlikely dynasty that shaped the Tudor era. The first book, Jane the Quene, tells the story of Jane Seymour’s marriage to Henry VIII; and The Path to Somerset, chronicles Edward Seymour’s rise after Jane’s death to become Lord Protector of England and Duke of Somerset (taking us right through Henry’s crazy years). Janet is currently working on a new trilogy about Elizabeth, and preparing to publish her translation of a nineteenth century biography of Henry. And because you can never have too much Tudors in your life, Janet also attends book club meetings and participates in panels and discussions through History Talks!, a group of historical novelists from Southern California who work with libraries around the state.


The Unsuspecting Reign of Edward Tudor
Motherless since birth and newly bereft of his father, Henry VIII, nine-year-old Edward Tudor ascends to the throne of England and quickly learns that he cannot trust anyone, even himself.
Edward is at first relieved that his uncle, the new Duke of Somerset, will act on his behalf as Lord Protector, but this consolation evaporates as jealousy spreads through the court. Challengers arise on all sides to wrest control of the child king, and through him, England.
While Edward can bring frustratingly little direction to the Council’s policies, he refuses to abandon his one firm conviction: that Catholicism has no place in England. When Edward falls ill, this steadfast belief threatens England’s best hope for a smooth succession: the transfer of the throne to Edward’s very Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, whose heart’s desire is to return the realm to the way it worshipped in her mother’s day.

My Thoughts:
The opening paragraph shows young Edward riding a horse. The words describe him using details creating a perfect picture image in my mind. Edward is young. He has a scrawny, bony, and tender body. He tires easily. He is stoic, stubborn, purposeful, and persevering.
A few paragraphs later he has a memory of a teaching principle his father, King Henry VIII told him: “People will do far worse. All your life, they will lie to you. Practice discerning their true meaning; you will need to be expert at it.” Page 4.

These are examples setting the tone of the story.
~Edward is a boy. A young scrawny boy who will become king. He is a son after his father’s own heart. There are similar personality traits. And, Edward wrestles with his age versus his role as king.
~Edward is thrust in an arena of ambitious and cut-throat men. He wonders who to trust. He remembers his father’s advice.

I love this story for several reasons:
~I felt apart of the story from the first paragraph until the last line.
~Edward and Mary became flesh and bone because of this story. Elizabeth has a role, but hers is more of an expectant presence-just to the right of the stage.
~It’s interesting the ideas, prejudices, bias Edward and Mary were taught about each other and Elizabeth. Each had the same father, but different mothers and households.
~Edward believes his Christian belief and worship is correct. Mary believes her Christian belief and worship is correct. Each are unwilling to compromise.
~The Boy King is a story strong in fleshing out human behavior, mannerisms, expressions, fears, emotions, physical impairments, and imperfections.
~Scenes show the intensity of crisis situations and how Edward feels and responds showing a realness of his youth, and a desire for maturity, and to be a decisive king.
~The story is heavy with conflicts. This creates an atmosphere of trepidation and anticipation.

One thing I noticed is the heavy use of describing the nose. I know you are probably laughing at my critique…I hope so. I saw the words snorted, sniffed, with the nose in the air or raised higher a bit too much.

Direct link for the giveaway!
During the Blog Tour, we (HFVBT) are giving away a copy of The Boy King by Janet Wertman!
The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on October 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The first two books in the series:

Book One
Book Two

(Review) The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classics. October 8, 2020. First published 1898.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Horror. Thriller. Gothic. Novella. Ghost story. Psychological.
Pages: 203 pages.
Source: Kindle Unlimited eBook edition.
Audience: Readers of classic literature. Readers of horror or gothic fiction.
Rating: Very good.

Henry James (1843-1916)
An American writer.
The Turn of the Screw first appeared as a series in the Collier’s Weekly magazine.

A governess has a new job caring for a young brother and sister who are orphaned. They live in a country estate managed by their uncle. The uncle doesn’t want anything to do with their upbringing other than providing a place for them to live. One of the terms of hiring the new governess is she is not to contact him. She and Mrs. Grose (housekeeper) are to handle the children. The children are Miles and Flora. They are described as beautiful children.
Soon after the new governess arrives she sees a young man and woman. She sees them in various places around the house. They seem strange and sinister. She wonders who they are and what they want?
Miles has been dismissed from school. The governess doesn’t know the reason.
The governess shares her feelings to Mrs. Grose about Miles dismissal from school.
The governess shares her feelings to Mrs. Grose about the strange couple she sees lurking around the house.

My Thoughts:
This is not a story that I understood what is happening. I am left to “figure it out.”
I had a thought running through my mind while reading it: is the governess seeing ghosts or is she having a psychotic episode?
The governess is young. She is inexperienced. She is easily taken in by the two children because they are beautiful, young, and innocent.
Much of the story is the governess’s thoughts.
I wondered: what direction would the story have gone if Mrs. Grose had not believed the governess’s story about seeing the couple?
The story intensifies with anticipation about the needed conversation between the governess and Miles because of his dismissal; and, who is the couple on the property?
The story ends not as I expected and without closure.

What do I like about this story?
I like the structure and form of the story.
I like the unique telling of it.
I like the other-worldly-haunting-feeling of the house.
I like it that the story made me think…and think outside the box perse.

Is The Turn of the Screw scary? No. It is a strange story. It is a story that is odd-peculiar.