The Next Together

I went looking for books that “seemed to be similar” to Green Darkness by Anya Seton. This, I mean books about sweethearts who lost each other in one time period, were reincarnated, and found each other in another time.

I found The Next Together by Lauren James.

The Next Together followed two sweethearts, Katherine and Matthew, as they lived through four time periods: The Siege of Carlisle, England, during the Jacobite rising in 1745; The Crimean War in 1854; a British government conspiracy in June 2019; and a second British government conspiracy in 2039.

Several times, Katherine and Matthew parted in tragedy and found each other in the next life.

In my opinion, The Next Together qualified as: Young Adult (for mature teenagers), Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction. The book referenced sex and included a few off-color jokes. The book did not include graphic sex scenes.

I actually gave the book a not-great rating on one of the book rating websites. However, I blog about this book tonight because you might disagree with my reasons for the harsh rating.

I rated the book unfavorably for two reasons:

Reason #1: The Next Together ended with several loose ends. I can’t elaborate more without giving away spoilers. However, after I finished the book, I learned from reading the book’s other ratings that at least one sequel exists. This was not at all evident to me from the promotional material that I saw when I purchased the book. I saw absolutely nothing on the book’s jacket or opening pages that this was the first book in a set. I’m not happy that the book ended with loose ends and that I need to purchase at least one additional book in order to read a resolution. If I wanted to read a series, then I would have actively searched for a series.

Let me explain something: back in high school, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver ended with no clear resolution. I finished the book feeling annoyed and confused. I wondered if somebody tore the final pages out of the school library’s copy. Up until then, Lois Lowry was one of my absolute favorite authors. I discovered YEARS later that The Giver was actually the first book in a four-book series. Absolutely nothing on The Giver‘s jacket alerted me to this. We didn’t have the internet back then at my high school, so I couldn’t find this out via a Google search. I guess that I’m still slightly ticked off about this.

Reason #2: One of the protagonists concluded that society was better off because the Jacobite rising for Scottish independence ended the way that it did in 1745. I’m an American. I didn’t study the Jacobite rising in high school or college. I don’t have an opinion on the Jacobite rising. However, I’m under the impression that the issue of Scottish independence is still a touchy subject across the pond. I felt as if this author forced her own opinion on readers, especially the Young Adult readers.

Diana Gabaldon’s The Outlander series also explored the Jacobite risings. So did Sir Walter Scott’s The Waverly Novels. So, you probably don’t agree with my reason #2.

By the way, the book listed a copyright of 2015. So, the author wrote this book prior to the 2016 United Kingdom Brexit vote, the 2016 United States presidential election, and the 2019 United Kingdom Conservative Party leadership election. Be assured that the protagonists made NO statements about Donald Trump, Brexit, or Boris Johnson.

Let me know if you read The Next Together.

Hannastown Burned Again

This blog post is about paranormal historical romance fiction and also about “regular” historical fiction.

So, if that’s not your thing, here’s a post that you might enjoy more: They “Bought” A Dead Body: My Visit to Jim Thorpe, PA.

I attended a few author visits and book launches at local bookstores. At such visits, the author talks a little bit about his or her new book and usually takes questions from the audience. The audience has the opportunity to purchase the book and to have the author sign it.

I show up at these things to learn about other people’s writing processes.

Anyway, last week I attended Laurel Houck’s local book launch for “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes.” This Y.A. (Young Adult) novel also qualifies as teen romance, paranormal, and historical fiction. Laurel Houck lives in the Pittsburgh area.

I say “historical fiction” because the plot included this event: In July 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, the British (some websites claim “Canadians”) and their Seneca allies under Guyasuta attacked and burned down Hannastown (also called Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.

See, Greensburg is now the county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. However, the county seat actually “sat” in Hannastown in 1782. Hannastown was the first county seat west of the Alleghenies (the Allegheny Mountains). Westmoreland Countians attended to court business as the attack started. Many settlers from surrounding farms took refuge inside Hannastown’s fort as their farms, crops, and town burned.

Peggy Shaw got shot as she chased after a runaway toddler during the attack. Poor Peggy went onto the historical record as the attack’s only fatality.

Today, we can all visit Historic Hanna’s Town on the site of the Hannastown that the British, Guyasuta, and their allies burned. The Westmoreland County Historical Society now runs an archeological site there. They maintain several colonial homes and a museum at the site. In the summer, a festival re-enacts the attack on “Hanna’s Town.”

The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” introduced me to a supernatural teen named Summer who manifested herself behind a Sheetz convenience store. Summer soon found herself enrolled in a high school history class that took a trip to Historic Hanna’s Town. Then, Summer had a flashback to her own experience at Hannastown in 1782.

So, “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” is the first paranormal novel that I read about Hannastown.

Here are two non-paranormal historical fiction stories about Hannastown:

1.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam, copyright 1973

I bought this book used from the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh.

This book introduced me to a fictional little girl named Hannah who lived in Colonial Hanna’s Town, and considered it to be “her” town.

Spoiler: Hannah and her family conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town about a year or so before the British and Guyasuta attacked it. This book was written for young readers. It didn’t include any violence or terror. The book merely described how Hannah and her family built their house, established their farm, completed their chores, etc. In fact, this book reminded me of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

2.) “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, copyright 1942.

Turnbull dedicated “The Day Must Dawn” “To the residents of Westmoreland County.” At the beginning of it, she wrote: “When I was a small girl, driving with my parents from the village of New Alexandria in Western Pennsylvania to Greensburg, the county seat, I always used to beg them to stop the horse at one spot in the road and tell me again about Hannastown-that-was-burned-by-the-Indians.”

Turnbull was born and raised (and is now buried) in New Alexandria, which is about five miles from the site of old Hannastown. 

In “The Day Must Dawn,” one of the (fictional) main characters watched (the real life) Colonel William Crawford burn at the stake while Simon Girty laughed. This character later returned to his family in Hannastown and then watched his own home and town burn. This novel described the aftermath of several other violent deaths in the years leading up to the burning of Hannastown.

In “The Day Must Dawn,” the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition during the American Revolution. (William Crawford, the leader of the expedition, previously founded Fort Crawford in Parnassus, New Kensington.) The Native Americans and British attacked and burned Hannastown less than a year later.

“The Day Must Dawn” is actually a romance about Scotch-Irish Presbyterians named Hugh and Violet.

See, before the novel opened, white settlers moved onto Native American lands along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. The Native Americans retaliated with violent attacks on these settlements. All of Violet’s siblings and also Hugh’s parents died in these attacks. Violet’s parents informally “adopted” Hugh.

So, at the beginning of “The Day Must Dawn,” Hugh and Violet called each other “sister” and “brother” and they considered each other as siblings. Then they fell in love with each other.

Hugh decided that he must join a colonial militia and prove his manhood. He planned to ask Violet’s parents (his own foster parents) for permission to marry Violet. In the meantime, Violet’s mother planned to marry Violet (her only living biological child) off to a lawyer who will take her to an easier life in Philadelphia. (Or what passed for easier in that era. One tenth of the population of Philadelphia perished during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.)

I sometimes romanticize colonial life. In 1782, Pennsylvania was the frontier, and life was cruel and primitive. Parents were admonished by neighbors not to grow too fond of their children, lest they tempt fate. Several children died in this novel. Violet’s father mocked Violet and her mother for bathing in the winter. He bragged about the long period of time since his last bath. (I suspect that this may be one reason why the spark apparently died in the marriage of Violet’s parents.) Violet learned that her mother ate off of plates decorated with flowers during her own childhood in Philadelphia. Violet told her mother that she would die happy if she herself could eat off of such a plate just once. The family’s prized possessions were three books (a Bible and two volumes of Shakespeare) and a mirror.

The author described a folklore treatment actually used by the Pennsylvania German – or, as the book refers to them, the Pennsylvania “Dutch.” Here’s what happened:

A rattlesnake bit Viola (on page 237) as she worked on farming chores. Viola’s mother treated the wound with contemporary medicine. (Chestnut bark poultice. Boiled chestnut leaves. Nanny tea – tea made with dried sheep dung.)

Meanwhile, Viola’s father and Hugh dissected the offending snake. They roasted the snake over a fire.  They said “words of the dark charm” over the cooking snake. Then, they applied the snake meat to Viola’s wound.

Viola’s mother turned away, ashamed that her husband and foster son used “witchcraft” (her words) to treat the snakebite.

Simon Girty appeared in the story and declared his sympathy for the Native Americans. (I love that Simon Girty appeared in this story!) In one scene, Girty bought Hugh a drink in a Hannastown tavern. Girty proceeded to tell Hugh why he supported the actions of local Native American chiefs. (Girty also spied Crawford sitting on the other side of the bar, and talked about his dislike of Crawford.)  Later, after Girty and Hugh both rode in the so-named Squaw Campaign, Girty told Hugh how the outcome of the campaign (several dead Native American women) disgusted him. Girty defected from the Pennsylvania militia and joined the British.

The Day Must Dawn” has been out of print by The Macmillan Company for years. The Westmoreland County Historical Society’s website used to sell a paperback reprint of this book. I bought my own hardback copy used on Amazon.

I found some good biographical information on Turnbull at Peter Oresick’s The Pittsburgh Novel and Goodreads. However, one of the librarians at Saint Vincent College introduced me to Turnbull when I worked at the library as a student. As I mentioned above, Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria, PA. Saint Vincent College is a very short drive from New Alexandria.

Turnbull actually graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (IUP used to have a building named “Turnbull Hall” in honor of her. My sister, a double-graduate of IUP, told me that the school tore Turnbull Hall down a few years ago.)

Turnbull married a man who then left to fight in World War I. Afterward, Turnbull and her husband moved to New Jersey. Turnbull became a best-selling author. She set several of her novels in Western Pennsylvania. 

So, I’ve just outlined three very different historical novels about Hannastown (Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.

Check back for future updates about my favorite podcasts and travel adventures.

Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austen

Once upon a time, I followed my husband Jonathan on his business travel to London. We rented a car. We drove to Tintern Abbey, in Wales, on the River Wye.

Well, Jonathan drove our British rental car on the left side of the road. Jonathan maneuvered the traffic circles (roundabouts). I navigated.

Here’s the first road sign that we saw after we crossed the line into Wales. Note that the first three lines of this sign are in Welsh and the final three lines are in English:

PAN FYDD

GOLAU COCH

ARHOSWCH YM

WHEN RED LIGHT

SHOWS WAIT

HERE

We almost didn’t tour Tintern Abbey.

The government runs this landmark as a day-use attraction, so it closes before the sun sets. The staff ends ticket sales 30 minutes before the attraction closes for the day. We got lost and then we arrived at Tintern Abbey about an hour before it closed.

But we made it!

Cistercian monks established and maintained Tintern Abbey between 1131- 1536. Tintern Abbey closed in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Here are some of the things that happened:

1.) The monarchs in England used to be Roman Catholic.

2.) The Protestant Reformation began in Saxony (Germany) in 1517.

3.) Henry VIII of England wanted to end his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1533 so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

4.) Henry VIII rejected papal supremacy. Parliament passed a law establishing Henry as the head of the Church of England.

5.) In the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry closed all of the monasteries, including Tintern Abbey.

6.) Henry’s agents stripped the monastic property of anything and everything valuable, including the lead roof.

(In Anya Seton’s novel Green Darkness, one of the main characters lived as an English monk in a different Catholic monastery. Henry VIII also closed this monastery during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The novel detailed how Henry VIII’s officials plundered that monastery of its valuables and banished the monks. At least one of these monks fled to France. Many of them remained in England but hid from the Protestants during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. The King’s officials grew their own wealth by closing the monasteries. See my prior blog post about Anya Seton.)

The band Iron Maiden filmed their music video for “Can I Play with Madness” partly at Tintern Abbey.

Jane Austen shouts-out to Tintern Abbey in her novel Mansfield Park.

Wikipedia taught me that Allen Ginsburg tripped on acid here in 1967 and then wrote his poem Wales Visitation.

William Wordsworth also wrote a poem about Tintern Abbey.

The Wye Valley Railway established a station near the Abbey in 1876. Though prior tourists visited Tintern by boat, fashionable Victorians could now access it by train.

We left the Abbey and grabbed dinner at a local pub. Other patrons spoke Welsh to each other.

We drove through the rural darkness back to London.

Watch for my upcoming blog posts about my adventures in travel.

Anya Seton and Reincarnation

This is a book report on Green Darkness by Anya Seton.

Anya Seton (1904 – 1990) wrote several historical fiction novels about real-life and fictional protagonists. My high school library, my college library, and my Grandma Gaffron’s library all carried her books. Philippa Gregory wrote forwards to new editions of several Seton novels.

I read Dragonwyck first.

Perhaps our high school librarian set it out as one of her recommended books. Dragonwyck told the fictional tale of a poor young farm woman in New York State who married a rich man who knew President Martin Van Buren. She learned that the rich husband actually poisoned his first wife and intended to kill her as well. Dragonwyck has the same gothic plot as movies (such as The Babysitter’s Seduction starring Kerri Russell) and at least one Mary Higgins Clark book (A Cry in the Night).

Then I read Seton’s novel Katherine because I saw it on a list of the “best historical fiction that aspiring writers should read.”

Katherine fictionalized Katherine Swynford’s life in the 1300’s. Katherine grew up in a convent after her father (a knight) died serving the King of England and the Black Death killed her grandparents. Her sister Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster after his first wife died of the Black Death and his second wife also died of something horrible. Katherine’s stepson, Henry, overthrew his own cousin Richard II from the throne of England. Henry became Henry IV of England.

Next, I read My Theodosia.

My Theodosia fictionalized the life of Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. This is the same Theodosia who inspired the song Dear Theodosia in the Hamilton musical. In real life, Theodosia Burr married a future governor of South Carolina and she moved to his plantation. She ended up “lost at sea” at the age of 29. She was a passenger on a boat that disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 1813. (Just a note of caution: My Theodosia‘s story line and language turned racist after Theodosia moved to the plantation.)

Finally, I read Green Darkness.

Now, I consider Green Darkness (published in 1972) as a cross between fantasy and historical fiction. The story “begins” in the year 1970. A fictional American – Celia Marsdon – moves to England with her British husband, Richard.

Richard grew up in his family’s ancestral seat in Sussex, but he hated his childhood there. Richard still decides to move back home after his father’s death. Big mistake.

The Marsdons show up in Sussex on Halloween. They stop first at the ruins of Chowdry House, a real-life Tudor mansion that burned down in the 1700’s. Celia insists that she remembers being in that mansion before it burned. The Marsdons watch bonfire lights in the rural darkness. They meet business associates at the real-life, ancient Spread Eagle Inn. During drinks, somebody jokes about Halloween and its “wormy dead” which “rise from their graves.” The business associates tell Celia a ghost story about a “black monk” (a Benedictine monk) who haunts the area. Celia slips out of the inn to look for the ghost monk. Celia finds the ghost monk and chases it. (Just like every episode of Scooby Doo!) Richard finds Celia and gets angry.

The Marsdons “settle” into Richard’s ancestral home. Their marital problems continue. Richard plays the song “Celia, Wanton and Fair” over and over on his record player.

Celia tours a famous “real” landmark, Ightham Mote, with her mother. They learn that renovation crews recently found a skeleton walled up in the estate’s main house. Celia suffers vague flashbacks to prior events there and she falls ill.

The Marsdon newlyweds hold a dinner party for a bunch of people that they barely know. However, all of the guests at the party actually seem “familiar” to Celia. Celia suffers a medical emergency that night.

As Celia recovers in a hospital, her mother brings to her bedside a physician / Hindu teacher. Under this doctor’s “guidance” Celia recalls memories from her prior life as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s in Sussex.

The story goes back to the 1500’s for about 500 pages.

Celia’s husband from 1970, Richard Marsdon, is a Catholic Benedictine monk named Stephen Marsdon in the 1500’s.

Brother Stephen Marsdon lives in an English monastery until Henry VIII closes it through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I imagine that Stephen’s monastery resembled Tintern Abbey. (I will blog about Tintern Abbey next.) Stephen flees to France, but later returns to Sussex.

I need to mention that Celia de Bohun’s aunt, Ursula, is obsessed with predictions and divinations. Aunt Ursula hires a famous mystic to tell Celia’s fortune. The mystic predicts Celia’s early and violent death.

For the next several hundred pages, Celia de Bohun and Stephen Marsdon fall in love as they dodge the wrath of the Tudor monarchs.

As you probably guessed, Stephen Marsdon and Celia de Bohun leave behind “unfinished business” in the 1500’s that Richard and Celia Marsden resolve in 1970.

Celia Marsdon wakes from her trance in 1970 and she realizes that the guests from her dinner party were all reincarnated from people that she knew as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s.

The two Celia’s, Richard, and Stephen are all fictional, as are all of the guests from the 1970’s dinner party. However, several of the characters that Celia de Bohun met in the 1500’s are real historical figures. The “ghost monk” that Celia Marsdon chased on Halloween is based on the “real” ghost story about the Black Monk of Pontefract.

Green Darkness spans about 600 pages. In my opinion, Seton should have cut this down to 300 pages. The story goes off on many side plots (tangents) that have nothing to do with Celia and Richard’s “unfinished business.” I suspect that Seton plugged unused material from her other books into this, her final finished novel.

I laughed when Celia de Bohun mentions Katherine Swynford’s famous marriage to John of Gaunt two centuries earlier. (John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, married Mary de Bohun in 1380. I suspect that the author intended that the fictional Celia de Bohun of the 1500’s belonged to the same de Bohun family.)

If I ever return to the United Kingdom, I might visit these real places listed in Green Darkness: the Chowdry Castle ruins, the Spread Eagle Inn, and Ightham Mote.

In Green Darkness, some of the characters who mistreat and abuse others in the 1500’s pay dearly for it in 1970. Similarly, kindly Aunt Ursula suffers in the 1500’s but during the 1970’s dinner party she is rich and beautiful.

It’s important to be nice to people. Karma exists.

Anya Seton passed away in 1990. Hypothetically, if she was born into another life in 1991, she would now be 28 years old in her new life. Perhaps Anya Seton lives on in the body of another writer.