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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Saint and the Fasting Girl

The Saint and the Fasting Girl
by Anna Richenda
330 pages


*** About the Book ***

At the start of the story, Georgia is a nun in a small convent during the reign of Henry VIII & Katherine of Aragon. Georgia's main responsibility is caring for the relic of St. Isela, the patron saint of the convent. One night a baby girl is born in town, and this girl has a birthmark on her palm that matches Georgia's own birthmark. This is the sign the nuns have been waiting for; they believe this baby will bring their beloved St. Isela back into the world ... somehow.

This book is a work of Historical Fantasy.


*** Why I Read It ***

I received an email from the author asking if I'd be interested in reviewing this book. I grew up in the Catholic Church (though I attend a non-denominational church now) and have fond memories of nuns and saints so the book sounded intriguing to me.


*** My Thoughts ***

What a great book! I stumbled through the first chapter, not really sure what was going on or how the story was meant to begin. At that point I was thinking that I'd made a bad decision in agreeing to review this book. But I put more attention into reading and the story quickly picked up.

The best way to describe this book is to say that it is something like a Greek myth set in the context of the Catholic Church, backed up by excellent historical details. There is an epic story of a girl being rescued in a miraculous way by God. There are elements of the fantastical in the form of miracles, visions, and reincarnation (hence the reason that I classify it as Historical Fantasy). And there is a plethora of authentic period detail that immerses you in the characters' world.

The book starts by plopping the reader directly into the story without any background. That style of storytelling continues throughout the book, and often the backstory of a particular character - which might explain his/her motives - is left unexplained. After I finished reading there were questions left unanswered that I had hoped would be resolved. But that didn't take away from my enjoyment; rather it kept me on the edge of my seat until the end.

One quick note: For those who are getting rather tired of books about the Tudors (as I am), I'd like to point out that there is not much mention of them in this book. The royal court and its doings are more of the background than the actual story, a fact which I appreciated.


*** Historical Background ***

If you overlook the miraculous elements of this book you get a clear slice-of-life picture of this time and place.

In addition to being an author, Anna Richenda is also an historian whose focus is monastic history (read more at historyfish.net). Because of her background, she pays very close attention to historical detail in her book. I loved and appreciated this. From what I can tell through some cursory internet research Richenda really captures the realities of life in this time and place; from the medicines to the kitchens to the superstitions, she really nails it.

Saint Isela was not an actual saint as far as I can tell, but there are many, many legends of saints that are similar to this one.


*** Your Thoughts ***

Here are links to a few other reviews of this book. Can I add yours here? Let me know about it in the comments.
I'd love to discuss the end of this book with with some of you who've read it. What's your take on how the story ended? If you did read this and want to discuss the ending, shoot me an email (through my profile) so we don't spoil it for anyone else.

5 comments:

Anna said...

I have a review copy of this book, too, so I'm glad to hear it's good. Now you've got me curious about the ending!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Kay said...

Me, me, pick me!!

I want to discuss about the way the book ended too :)

Well actually, I would be more interested in your take on it as I will have to re-read the ending as I don't quite remember the exact details (but I remember I had some questions about it too :) ).

Feel free to write me an email if you want to talk more (I chose the comment route 'cause I figured it would have been a bit strange to send you an email with only one phrase, something like "So... what did you think of it?" :P ). My address is kay at kaysbookshelf dot com.

Oh, and thank you for linking to my review!

Amanda said...

What an interesting sounding book. I read Sacred Hearts a little while ago so I'm intrigued w/ monastic life. I like how you described it as a Greek myth but Catholic context. Very interesting.

The website is pretty cool too. I'm poking around on there :)

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I'm glad you liked this one! I've got a copy but haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to the experience.

Heather J. said...

Anna - It is not a bad ending, but there IS a lot of speculation as to what it "really" means. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Kay - I'm loving the email chat we're having about the ending. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

Amanda - I have Sacred Hearts on my shelf ... it is worth picking up? As for this book, that description was the only one that really worked! :)

A Bookshelf Monstrosity - Hope you enjoy it when you do pick it up.

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