The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

onlygirlThe Only Girl in the World is an extraordinary memoir about madness, control and the survival of horrific childhood abuse.

Maude Julien’s father Louis chose his future wife and mother of his child, Jeannine, when she was only six and he was 34. He became Jeannine’s guardian by promising her family that he would provide her with a quality education.

Then: “Twenty-two years after he took possession of Jeannine, Louis Didier decided the time had come for her to bring his daughter into the world… Louis Didier liquidated his assets, bought a house near Cassel, between Lille and Dunkirk, and withdrew to live there… to devote himself entirely to carrying out the project he had devised back in 1936: to make his child a superhuman being. That child was me.” loc 73, ebook.

Unfortunately, to “make his child a superhuman” involved leaving her alone in a dark, rat-infested basement, sleeping in a room without heat, eating stale bread, practicing music for 12 or more hours a day and being entirely separated from any other children her age.

That’s where Maude got the title of this memoir: The Only Girl in the World

I have not read a childhood account this disturbing since A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

Maude’s father was unhinged. “My father is convinced that the mind can achieve anything. Absolutely anything: it can overcome every danger and conquer every obstacle. But to do this requires long, rigorous training away from the impurities of this dirty world.” loc 247, ebook.

He asks Maude to do things he cannot do like perform somersaults or swim in freezing water. He shows no affection to either his child or his wife.

Louis makes the females of the house wait on him as if he is an invalid. He makes his child hold a chamber pot each morning while he empties his bladder.

He’s a controlling monster.

Louis has strange beliefs about water and soap removing the body’s immunities so he insists that Maude only bathes once a week or less. And, when she is finally given the opportunity to bathe, she must use his dirty bathwater to “take strength from him.”

And she can’t count on protection from her mother, who was groomed by Louis to do anything he asks of her. Jeannine actually blames Maude for Louis taking them to live in the middle of nowhere. It is very sad.

Maude’s only friends are her pets, whom her father abuses as much as he hurts Maude. “Can an animal teach a person about happiness? In the depth of my despair, I am fortunate to have this incredible source of joy.” loc 685, ebook.

Even worse, Maude is abused by the few adults Louis allows in their lives. (Trigger warnings for those who were sexually or physically abused as children.)

Though incredibly disturbing, The Only Girl in the World is ultimately a story of survival against all odds. The human spirit is incredibly resilient as Maude’s tale illustrates.

Perhaps she is more superhuman than even she realizes. Highly recommended.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free digital copy of this book.

Thank you for reading!

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Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy by John Prevas

Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy by John Prevas

hannibal's oathA fascinating and true study of Hannibal, one of ancient Rome’s greatest enemies, a brilliant general and, according to John Prevas, a “larger-than-life action hero from the past.”

Prevas did the translations from period and later documents, historical research and traveled to the places where Hannibal went, to create one of the most insightful, non-fiction examinations of Hannibal that I’ve ever read.

It all started with Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar. “Hamilcar was furious at what he saw as Roman bad faith, but powerless to intervene at the moment, he chose to bide his time and find another way to even the score.” loc 290, ebook. Spoiler alert (if you don’t know ancient history): Hamilcar had a bunch of kids and made them swear to destroy Rome. The boys, he groomed as warriors; the girls, he married off advantageously to help his sons.

“As the rituals neared completion, Hamilcar called for Hannibal, then only nine years of age, to join him at the altar. There, the young boy begged his father to take him to Spain, and Hamilcar consented on the condition that Hannibal pledge to the god he would always be an enemy to Rome and to anyone who stood with Rome.” loc 323, ebook. No pressure or anything.

The Barcas, Hamilcar’s family, create a foothold in Spain. It is from there, that Hannibal will eventually attack the Romans by, famously, crossing the Alps- with elephants in tow.

Anything to do with Hannibal’s elephants were my favorite parts of this book. “The elephants were often plied with wine before battle to stimulate their aggression, and while the wine might have done that to some degree, it also seems to have contributed to their tendency to panic and then rampage during the mayhem of the fighting.” loc 713, ebook.

Drunk, rampaging elephants! It doesn’t get much more dramatic than that.

Though written more like a textbook than a historical fiction (which is my favorite way to learn about history), I still learned a lot from Hannibal’s Oath and enjoyed it.

Recommended for classic majors, elephant lovers and fans of ancient history.

Reminder: the short quotations I cited in this review may change in the final printed version. Thank you to NetGalley and Da Capo Press for a free advance reader’s copy of this book.

Thanks for reading!

Ghost Box: Voices from Spirits, Ets, Shadow People & Other Astral Beings by Chris Moon, Paulette Moon

Ghost Box: Voices from Spirits, Ets, Shadow People & Other Astral Beings by Chris Moon, Paulette Moon

ghost boxGhost Box is Chris Moon’s collection of paranormal investigations that he has conducted using electronic voice phenomena (EVP) and his own intuitive skills.

There is little to no science presented in this book so if you’re interested in the tech-side of paranormal investigation, you’ll have to keep looking.

Readers who want concrete information about the afterlife may grow a tad frustrated with this book. The majority of Moon’s investigations are conducted through feelings and feedback from the people he’s interacting with.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some solid hits. Occasionally, the information that he receives through his “ghost box” is absolutely spot on. It gave me the chills.

I watched a documentary once about Mario Bacci, an Italian man who has been receiving other worldly voices through an old radio for years. He has a group of devoted followers that gathers around him to hear his sessions with his own “ghost box”. They claim to hear their deceased family members through Bacci’s radio.

That documentary convinced me that this phenomena is real because of how the people reacted when they heard the noises coming through the radio.

Moon had his doubts at first too. When he first receives the box, he doesn’t think it will work. But, through using it and the evidence it provides, he becomes convinced that it is the real deal too.

“The machine facilitates real-time two-way communication with the spirit world and, as soon as my dad and I experienced it in action, we knew it would revolutionize the paranormal investigation field.” loc 95, ebook.

He receives this machine from Frank Sumption- an electrical tech who claims to have completed Thomas Edison’s ‘Telephone to the Dead.’

I didn’t even know that was a thing. “Apparently, Edison’s mother was a Spiritualist and he was very close to her. After her death, Edison started to re-examine his views on the afterlife. He realized that since energy could neither be created nor destroyed and that it could only change form, we humans (being energy) had to go somewhere.” loc 224. Fascinating.

The rest of the book, including aliens speaking through the ghost box and sightings of shadow people, I didn’t connect with as much. But, if you’re interested in that type of information, Moon’s book might be something that you’d really enjoy.

Thank you to NetGalley and Llewellyn Publications for a free digital copy of this book. Reminder: the brief quotations that I pulled for this review may change in the final printed version.

Thanks for reading!

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

gatherthedaughters<i>Gather the Daughters</i> is about a small community that lives with no electricity or modern conveniences on an island. They have a church made of stone that sinks into the ground and a holy book written by “the ancestors.” These ancestors are saint-like founders who, according to tradition, fled the wider world to preserve the human race during an apocalypse.

Traditions are dark and strange on the island, but not questioned because they were written by the ancestors.

The tale is told from the viewpoint of four girls: Vanessa, Caitlin, Janey and Amanda.

<i>”From the fires of wickedness we grew forth, like a green branch from a rotten tree,” he reads. “From the wastelands of want came the hardworking men of industry and promise. From the war-striken terror came our forefathers to keep us safe from harm.” Like everyone else, Vanessa mouths the words along with him.</i> loc 122, ebook.

Because of the small number of people on the island, everyone has an assigned job- that they keep for life. Reproduction, meetings and courtships are also controlled by tradition.

Sometimes the way things are done seem irrational or cruel, but the community does not change. Take the perpetually sinking church: <i>”Every ten years or so, when the roof is almost level with the ground, all the men on the island gather to build stone walls on top of it, and the roof becomes the new floor. Vanessa asked Mother why they couldn’t just use wood, but Mother said it was tradition, and it would be disrespectful to the ancestors to change it.”</i> loc 229, ebook.

Similar to <i>The Handmaiden’s Tale</i>, <i>Gather the Daughters</i> is ultimately about what happens when society dictates and controls relationships, sexuality and education through religious doctrine. It is also examines the male/female balance of power.

<i>Gather the Daughters</i> is a gripping read. But not mysterious. It was fairly clear in my mind from the start where this story was headed, but I cared about the main characters. They have heart and I couldn’t help but want them to live in a better world than the one they were born into.

I could see this being a great choice for book clubs. There’s plenty to talk about, especially with character motivations and the structure of society.

Reader warnings: survivors of childhood sexual abuse could be triggered by this read. There are also some domestic violence scenes.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations that I pulled for this review may vary in the final printed version.

Thanks for reading!

The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes

The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes

mapmaker's daughterA fascinating peek into the 16th century world of the Ottoman Empire. The story is told through the memories of a woman who is dying and recalling the circumstances that brought her to where she is now. Her extraordinary life included being kidnapped by pirates, educated with a prince and joining the royal family of Suleiman “the Magnificent.”

All of this as a female in the 1500s! Katherine Nouri Hughes, the author, admits that there are so few records of her life that Cecilia Baffo Veniero, called Nurbanu, was a blank slate.

But, Nurbanu actually existed. Hughes gives her a life of mystery, dizzying highs, lows, and riches beyond imagining. I loved it.

And, I learned so much from this story. Admittedly, my historical fiction preferences seem to run towards the Roman Empire or Tudor England. Perhaps it was time I branched out.

For example, did you know that there was a law for when the heir to the Sultan took the throne, that all of his brothers were killed? This was to protect the dynasty from civil war. “And to whomsoever of my sons the Sultanate shall pass, it is fitting that for the order of the world he shall kill his brothers. That law has held us together; secured our Empire; made us who we are…” loc 127, ebook.

Beyond the obvious reasons, this was particularly awful because the Sultan tended to have scores of kids. There were the usual threats of illness and the plague to consider.

Suleiman himself was a legend in his own time. “A man like no other. His titles alone told the story. … Sultan of the Two Continents, Servitor of the Two Sanctuaries, Warden of the Horizons. Suleiman the Magnificent- man and legend combined. … Imperial, mirthless, deadly pale.” loc 463, ebook.

He ruled an empire and his children. According to Hughes, he was heavily influenced by his favorite wife, Hurrem, who is a colorful character in this story.

Nurbanu is fortunate because, when she is captured, she was already well-educated. “I’d been assigned to the Head Scribe herself without question because I was educated. That was what Barbarossa had said at the presentation. ‘She can read.'” loc 482. That saves her from more gruesome fates within the harem.

But it doesn’t make her life easy. After all, she’s still a slave in the palace of Suleiman.

“I know how awful the end of fantasy is- for it steals into parts of the heart and mind where nothing should be able to go. It is driven by the heat of what we long for, and it melts all that is in its path until it comes out into the open and is exposed for what it is: something that was never true.” locs 3250-3268.

Recommended for readers who like historical fiction with a large cast of character, an exotic locale and a heroine with a quick mind.

Thank you to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for a free advance reader copy of this book. Reminder- the short quotations that I used in this review may differ in the final printed version.

Thanks for reading!

Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman by Mary Mann Hamilton

Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman by Mary Mann Hamilton

trials of the earthTrials of the Earth is Mary Mann Hamilton’s memoir about her hardscrabble life in America during the late 1800’s.

She uses period speech to illuminate a life of struggle and hard work. If certain anachronistic and racially insensitive terms bother you, especially the casual use of the N-word, you may want to chose another memoir. It was shocking but I kept reminding myself that Mary was a product of her times.

On top of the constant struggle of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over her head, it seems like she was perpetually pregnant and her husband was an alcoholic.

But Mary lived up to the challenges, raised and buried children, nursed her husband through his hangovers and illnesses- she was a survivor. That is mainly what Trials of the Earth was to me- a survival story.

“Nevertheless, this is not a book of repining; it is a tale simply told of what one woman has lived through in the Mississippi Delta. I say ‘lived through’ because at times this history reads like a record of the extreme limits of human endurance.” loc 75, introduction

So many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted didn’t exist. Mary moved around a lot and notes with relief every time her husband manages to install a pump in her new house so that she didn’t have to haul water from the river.

Mary’s relationship with her husband, Frank, isn’t a fair deal. She is a very young woman when she gets married and from the start he’s controlling- telling her what they will eat and what friends they will have. He even tells her what books she can read.

That would have been the last straw for me. But again, she was a woman of her times.

“To me he seemed like a man that had taken a silly child to raise rather than a wife. … As time went on I found there were plenty other things I didn’t know, too. The first thing I found out was that he drank.” loc 226, ebook.

In addition to the inequality in their relationship, Frank is from England and has a secret past. He won’t tell Mary, his own wife, his real name or talk about his circumstances or the family he left behind. But, Mary doesn’t let it bother her too much. I suppose she was too busy with everything else they had going on. That lack of trust would have driven me bonkers.

Not that she felt like anything was wrong with their relationship. “Women can stand more work, more trouble, and more religion than men.” loc 528, ebook. She accepted the hardships because she knew that she could. I admire her gumption but I also felt sad for her too. I felt sad because she didn’t have the option to live any other sort of life.

Frank is always talking about the sin of Eve and all the baggage that comes with it to Mary. There is a lot of mansplaining that goes on too. Parts of this book were infuriating to me.

Recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs that read like historical fiction. Ability to tolerate the bleak role that women occupied in society in the late 1800’s is a must.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: some of the quotations in this review may change in the final printed copy.

Thanks for reading!

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook  by Christina Henry

lostboyChristina Henry, author of the chilling Alice, which is a brilliant re-telling of Alice in Wonderland, has shifted focus to a new fairytale. In Lost Boy, readers get to experience the story of the boy-who-never-grew-up through the origin story of his arch-nemesis. And what a story it is.

“Peter will say I’m a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But I told you already. Peter lies. This is what really happened.” loc 85, ebook. Goosebumps? Yeah.

Fans of the original tale will need to prepare themselves for having beloved characters shown in a new and sinister light. Think Longbourn, but worse, much worse. “I had been with Peter longer than I’d been in the Other Place, longer than I could count, anyway. The seasons did not pass here and the days had no meaning. I would be here forever. I would never grow up.” loc 146, ebook. The others in Peter’s group call the narrator, Jamie.

He is a fierce fighter- the best. And he protects the younger and weaker members of those lucky few that Peter brings back from the real world or in this tale, the Other Place. This protective instinct is sneered at by Peter who accuses Jamie of “babying” or “mothering” the boys. In truth, there is no worse insult in Peter’s arsenal. Grown ups either abuse you or take your stuff or both. They’re pirates.

“(Peter) had invited us there, had promised us we would be young and happy forever. So we were. Unless we got sick, or died, or were taken by the pirates.” loc 257, ebook. So, Neverland is not the paradise that it is portrayed as in the original tale. There are also monsters called Many-Eyed that eat the boys alive, if they catch them.

“Was this, I wondered, what it felt like to be a grown-up? Did you always feel the weight of things on you, your cares pressing you down like a burden you could never shake? No wonder Peter could fly. He had no worries to weight him to the earth.” loc 1971, ebook.

The stage is set. Love and hate intertwine with magic, blood and, of course, a little bit of fairy dust.

If you enjoyed this tale, you may also want to explore some other Peter Pan re-tellings like Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson or All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe. The last, a horror-filled offering, may really appeal to those who want to delve more into the potential shadows of Neverland. There’s a price to pay for never growing up. In that tale, as in this, Peter pays it without a qualm.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations I cited in this review may vary in the final published version.

Thanks for reading!