Category Archives: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review: Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 9, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0547567847
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

At the age of eight, Hildegard von Bingen was offered to the Church. Starting at an early age Hildegard saw visions, mainly white orbs of light that floated around her. While she would never admit it, Hildegard’s mother was ashamed of Hildegard’s gift, instead sending her off to the Church. For the next several decades, Hildegard spent her days entombed with a young nun, Jutta von Sponheim, serving as her handmaiden. Hildegard refused to succumb to Jutta’s extreme religious practices and instead devoured books, learning about healing herbs, and celebrating her abilities. It wasn’t until Jutta died nearly thirty years later that Hildegard felt the freedom to write about her visions and began to stand up for the other young women entombed as she was.

Hildegard was witness to a number of travesties during her “religious imprisonment.” Children as young as age five given to the church by their parents, having no say to their future. The role of women in the Church was deplorable, destined to spend their entire lives entombed behind walls of stone. It wasn’t until Hildegard stood up for her own rights, and the rights of other women like her that these women, promised to devote their entire lives to the Church, gained freedom. As a result of her efforts, Hildegard is able to build a religious home for women, forever freeing them from the constraints of a corrupt Church, the first steps toward Reformation.

Ultimately, Hildegard’s story is a truly remarkable story of personal power and perseverance. In a time when visions of any sort were deemed potentially demonic or Satanic in nature, Hildegard could have very easily been ostracized due to her gift. Additionally, she had the inner strength and confidence that not many women had at this time. She wasn’t afraid to stand up against the most powerful of adversaries.

Sharratt admittedly states that takes some liberties in retelling Hildegard’s story, altering facts to make it flow properly. That said, this fictionalized retelling of Hildegard’s life is based on historical facts. Not being personally familiar with Hildegard’s story, I learned an immense amount of information about a woman so integral to the changing beliefs of the Church. All in all, a truly remarkable and enlightening read. Highly recommended.

Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (January 5, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0547229895
  • Source: Library copy

    Ruth Galloway, archeologist, lives in a remote area near Norfolk called Saltmarsh.  She has experience recovering ancient relics & remains of the Iron Age people, but when a child’s body is discovered on a remote beach she is intrigued.  The local police, lead by  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, call in Ruth for asssistance.  The bones are believed to be those of a young girl named Lucy, missing for a decade.  Since Lucy’s disappearance, Nelson has been receiving bizzare letters about the young girl.

    The bones turn out to be over two thousand years old, but Ruth becomes a part of the case when the letters reveal the writer has a knowledge of archeology.  Another girl goes missing and the pace of the investigation speeds up.  Soon Ruth discovers she’s a lot closer to the case than she’d like and in a great deal of danger.

    I’ve always been fond of forensic mysteries. In college, I took several archeology courses and the entire science has always fascinated me.  When I heard about this series, I was instantly drawn to it. Griffiths paints a very exciting, heart-pounding portrait of a crime.  What I loved about it most was Ruth’s character. She was real, she had flaws.  She’s overweight and lives with a bunch of cats in a remote cottage. She wasn’t a Barbie doll, but a truly average human being.  In addition, she’s smart, independent and quite witty. These details make Ruth a fascinating and endearing character, one that readers will be drawn to and appreciate.

    The setting added a great deal to the mystery.  Where the North Sea meets the land, the landscape is full of deep pits of mud, neither land nor water. Thousands of years ago the area held religious significance to its inhabitants. While Saltmarsh is a fictional location, I found an image of a similar landscape:

    I highly recommend this book to those looking for a new mystery series. I’m looking forward to reading & reviewing the second book in this series, THE JANUS STONE, scheduled for release in January 2011.

    Buy this book now from:
    The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

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