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The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson
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The Tenth Gift (2008)

by Jane Johnson

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I will begin by stating that this is not my usual type of book; it was lent to me by a friend and then a member of my book club mentioned it, so I decided to read it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so bothered by the unbelievable events and characters.

There are two stories. In the present, Julia Lovat is given an early 17th century book of needlework by her lover as a gift to end their seven-year affair. She soon discovers that a lady’s maid used the book as a diary. This young woman, Catherine Ann Tregenna (Cat), wants more than anything to become a master embroiderer and to escape the confines of Cornwall. Her latter wish is granted when she is one of the 60 people taken captive by Barbary pirates and brought to Morocco to be sold into slavery. Julia, fascinated by Cat’s diary, makes her way to North Africa to find out what happened to her.

One of the aspects of the book that really bothered me is that both Julia is so stupid. She becomes obsessed with Cat’s diary and while reading it comes across the name Annie Badcock (89), yet when she hears it again, she doesn’t remember it: “Annie Badcock. The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d come across it” (131). In the diary she also sees the surname Bolitho (24), yet she doesn’t remember that an aunt, the mother of her cousin and best friend, is a Bolitho. She has to be told: “’Well, Alison’s mother’s a Bolitho, isn’t she? You should know – she’s your cousin’” (322). And this is after Julia has several conversations with Alison about the diary and its contents! And she’s so inept in her conversations, at one time telling a Muslim man that his ancestors were “’such barbarous people’” (346). And the author never thought of a connection between the derivation of the adjective “barbarous” and the Barbary Coast of North Africa?

The other problem is that the number of parallels between Julia and Cat’s stories suggests excessive contrivance. They both look best in red dresses, and even their handwriting is similar. Both are experts in embroidery. Both have relationships which are unsatisfying. Each encounters a fortune teller who accurately predicts her future.

The number of coincidences is also excessive. Julia, who comes from Cornwall, has an affair with a man whose wife comes from Cornwall. Crucial letters which reveal the end of Cat’s story are found in Alison’s Cornwall home and a sample of Cat’s work is owned by the wife of Julia’s lover. And in Morocco Julia meets someone who also seems to have a piece of Cat’s embroidery from almost 400 years ago. The coincidences just go on and on.

This book would be classified as a historical romance so obviously there will be romantic relationships, but it would be better if these romances were credible. Is it likely that a woman would fall in love with someone who orchestrated the capture of 60 people including her family members, who tortured and killed captives, and who sold them into slavery? Julia also seems to move from a bad relationship to an unlikely one.

The one interesting aspect of the novel is its discussion of embroidery, a handicraft practiced by women around the world for centuries. The author seems to have done considerable research into embroidery in Medieval Islamic culture.

This is a work of fluff. It has the romantic element in an exotic location and a historical context which will appeal to readers of escapist fiction. It did not appeal to me. ( )
  Schatje | Mar 21, 2014 |
Pirates of the Mediterranean...
pg 123: Compare these talkative pirates to the slave traders in, say [b:The Book of Negroes|12954908|The Illustrated Book Of Negroes|Lawrence Hill|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mAGPc+3QL._SL75_.jpg|18112021]. The pirates here are hardly realistic, talking up their cargo like they're at Sunday tea. How come none of the women captives have been raped yet? Also not very realistic.
pg 131: "Annie Badcock" -- another really thinly veiled connection between Julia and Cat; first the repeated references to "Robert Bolitho" and then the unnoticed name "Bolitho" in the family Bible, and now the same name for the two seers, one in Cat's time, one in Julia's time. The connections are so obvious that the audience's intelligence level must not be very high.
pg 185: I'm tired of books with irrationally strong female characters. We're supposed to admire Cat because she speaks her mind and argues for what is right or righteous...but she's stupidly pigheaded in this way, because she really just puts her foot in her mouth everytime and insults the man with the metaphorical gun at her head. If she were really smart she'd have a better sense of self-preservation and subservience.
pg 216: lol Who, while sitting in a cafe and a strange man comes up and asks "What are you reading?", responds with an ENTIRE PARAGRAPH from the book?! First, the opening question is usually a pick up line and the guy couldn't care less about the book. Second, the typical answer to such a question is the TITLE of the book, not the literal words being read at that moment. Third, even if you wanted to share the literal words you were reading, you might give only a sentence or summary, not a huge paragraph! Try reading a random information paragraph to a stranger sometime; it takes longer than you think, and both you and the stranger will be bored very quickly. Really, I think this full out paragraph was just the author's lame way of throwing in more historical background. I didn't find it an effective interjection.
pg 219: I really hope this doesn't become (but I fear it will) a love story where she falls for Idriss...

Finished: As far as historical fiction and chicklit goes, this is a reasonable mesh of the two genres. Nothing to heavy in either (fortunately, in the latter case, though the love stories are predictable). Some unbelievable melodrama regarding Michael; not a believable character. The others: fairly typical of pop fiction.
The main thing this book has going for it is the look at Barbary pirates--excuse me, CORSAIRS-- that is not found in most stories. Otherwise just a good beach read. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
Jane Johnson's Crossed Bones has come at a great time - it seems there have never been so many good historical writers on our shelves and there is always room for one more. From the intriguing first line to the end of the novel this is exciting, entertaining and extremely enjoyable.

I've seen various people describe it as a 'rip-roaring read' and a 'swashbuckling pirate tale' and I would agree with both. Jane Johnson has weaved an excellent story into a well-researched historical backround. If you doubt the extent of her reading, check out the back of the book where a list of further reading sources is provided.

The writing style is clear, catchy and accessible and the characters are excellent. This enchanting mix of past and present is a real winner. ( )
  donnambr | Jan 12, 2013 |
This is a book about many things: two women - one living now and one who lived in the early 17th century, embroidery, slavery, corsairs, Islam, Cornwall, Morocco. The romantic stories of Julia Lovett (21st century) and Catherine Ann Treggena (17th century) and how they were linked did not really excite me much. What did excite me was the amazing picture of life in rural Cornwall 500yrs ago, and the sights smells and sounds of Morocco then and now, Jane Johnson has a real knack of conjuring up the place and the time.
She has researched the background subjects meticulously and put together an intriguing tale. I learnt a great deal from reading the book, and have subsequently followed up on some of the books Johnson includes in a list of recommended reading at the end. For some reason, the corsair raids on Cornwall and Devon during the 17th Century and their ability to capture and enslave English men women and children seems to have become a forgotten part of British history. 1,000,000 white slaves taken to North Africa is extraordinary, we are all taught about the black slave trade but this area seems to have been air-brushed out of the picture. ( )
1 vote herschelian | Oct 16, 2012 |
This is a beautiful story. The book starts with Julia, who has been having an affair with her best friend's husband. He gives her a gift of a centuries-old book about needlework (Julia owns an embroidery shop) and Julia discovers the story of Catherine, a young servant woman who is captured by Barbary pirates. The book goes back and forth between Julia's investigation of Catherine's life and Catherine's recounting of her journey. The author has a gift for descriptive writing- the colors, smells, tastes and life in the book leap off the page. It's also a very satisfying book that will hold you spellbound until the very last page.

Food: This book is spiced cake with nuts and dates, served with mint tea. It is lush, dense, flavorful and refreshing, all at once, without being too heavy. ( )
  amaryann21 | Jul 6, 2012 |
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"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before, like larks that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years."
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Book description
In an expensive London restaurant, Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. At first glance, it looks like a book of exquiste seventeenth-century embroidery patterns belonging to a woman named Catherine Ann Tregenna. Yet in its margins are the faintest diary enteries; they reveal that "Cat" and others were stolen from their Cornish church in 1625 by Muslim pirates and taken on a brutal voyage to Morocco to be auctioned off as slaves. Captivated by this dramatic discovery, Julia sets off to North Africa to determine the authenticity of the book and to uncover more of Cat's mesmerizing story. There, in the company of a charismatic Moroccan guide, amid the sultry heat, the spice markets, and exotic ruins, Julia will discover buried secrets. And in Morocco-just as Cat did before her-she will lose her heart. Set almost 400 years apart, the stories of these two women converge in an extraordinary and hauntings manner that will make readers wonder: Is history fated to repeat itself?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307405222, Hardcover)

The art of embroidery uncannily links two fascinating women of different eras and their equally passionate love stories


In an expensive London restaurant, Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. At first glance it is a book of exquisite seventeenth-century embroidery patterns belonging to a woman named Catherine Ann Tregenna. Yet in its margins are the faintest diary entries; they reveal that “Cat” and others were stolen from their Cornish church in 1625 by Muslim pirates and taken on a brutal voyage to Morocco to be auctioned off as slaves. Captivated by this dramatic discovery, Julia sets off to North Africa to determine the authenticity of the book and to uncover more of Cat’s mesmerizing story. There, in the company of a charismatic Moroccan guide, amid the sultry heat, the spice markets, and exotic ruins, Julia will discover buried secrets. And in Morocco—just as Cat did before her—she will lose her heart.

Set almost 400 years apart, the stories of these two women converge in an extraordinary and haunting manner that will make readers wonder—is history fated to repeat itself?

A literary mystery, historical adventure, and dual love story, The Tenth Gift literally crosses genres with narrative ease and prose that is as captivating as the characters who people this unforgettable tale.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:31 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A volume of seventeenth-century embroidery patterns that also contains faint diary entries brings together the lives of two women of different eras--Cat Tregenna, kidnapped by Muslim pirates in 1625, and Julia Lovat, a modern-day woman out to authenticate Cat's story.… (more)

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