Lo and behold, look what I just found at my local bookstore: my author friend Mary Sharratt‘s new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask! This is one I’ve been eager to read for some time. Here’s the backstory:
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and gain freedoms only men enjoy, until a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything. Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain, leaving plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later, publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women. THE DARK LADY’S MASK gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.
Long time visitors to this blog may recall I reviewed Mary’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen some time ago, as well as interviewed her about Daughters of the Witching Hill. To cut to the chase, I was deeply moved by both books. Mary has a true gift for bringing light to the hidden lives of women. The Dark Lady’s Mask promises to be just as enthralling. What’s not to like about a novel exploring the story behind Shakespeare’s secret muse?
Learn more about The Dark Lady’s Mask here.
Now that my Bad Princess news is out in the world*, here’s a sample of what I’m reading these days. Each of these are fascinating in their own way.
I have a June deadline for this book, so I am very nose-to-the-grindstone in the studio. Though much of the book is mapped out, there’s still much to do. I’m fortunate to be enjoying such good reading along the way.
*After my announcement on Facebook and Twitter, I was astounded by all the lovely messages. Please know how grateful I am for all of your kind wishes about Bad Princess!
As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been surviving the last licks of winter by immersing myself in books. One of them was Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs (Touchstone Books). Here’s a brief synopsis:
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate. But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her deceased father’s handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world’s greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.
The description of this book alone was catnip to this Brontë obsessed reader. I eagerly awaited its arrival, and tore through it in several hours. (Many thanks to the lovely people at Touchstone Books for providing me with a copy of this novel.)
My one sentence take: The Madwoman Upstairs is a charming Brontë-fueled romp of a novel. That said, it was lighter of tone than I’d expected because of the dramatic title—I was anticipating dark and stormy psychological depths, not a frothy coming-of-age caper. Don’t get me wrong. Frothy coming-of-age capers are wonderful, but it was as if I’d set my mouth for mushroom risotto and ended up with champagne sorbet. In retrospect, I probably should have been tipped off by the whimsical cover illustration. So, my bad!
Once I adjusted my palette, I had a ball picking up all the gothic tropes planted throughout: from the Rochester-inspired Oxford professor whom Samantha addresses as “sir,” to the Victorian-era governess portrait adorning her tower room. There’s even a sinister blast-from-the-past named Rebecca who drowns (or does she?) in a boating accident. Lowell has a real gift for the clever one-liner, and imbues her characters with wit and eccentricity. This is her first novel, and it’s a very accomplished debut.
Yet, as I read, I often felt the true heart of The Madwoman Upstairs laid in Samantha’s literary critique of the Brontë family and their legacy, rather than in the scavenger hunt plot. These sections were truly involving, and hint at the possibility of a deeper novel more akin to Possession than The Rossetti Letter. Samantha’s recasting of Anne Brontë, the Lady Edith of the Brontës, as a behind the scenes inspiration to her siblings was convincing enough to have me scurrying for my reference books. For this new perspective alone, I am so glad to have read The Madwoman Upstairs.
“When you’re older, you’ll inherit the Warnings of Experience,” he said.
“The Warnings of Experience?” I clarified.
“Why when I’m older?”
I should have asked him, Why the Warnings of Experience? but when you’re young, you never think to question the absurd.
—excerpted from The Madwoman Upstairs
Photographed this morning at my favorite cafe. And it’s a fabulous read!
One of my favorite kids’ NaNoWriMo outline—she created it out of post it notes. (If a child can do it, you can too!)