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A Light of Her Own by Carrie Callaghan

A Light of Her Own

by Carrie Callaghan

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Holland, during the 17th century. Judith and Maria are two women who are struggling to find their footing in a society that closes all doors to the ones who don’t fit in the religious images cultivated by an endless battle between different denominations. It closes all doors to women who are talented and brave enough to seek a better future, to make their talents one. Judith Leyster wants to be a painter, following the great tradition of her country. In order to do so, she needs to convince the men in the profession that she deserves to be taken seriously. She struggles to make them pay attention to her creations, not her petticoats. And Maria? Maria has to live in fear because of her faith. Her only solution is the search of a holy relic that will make her atone for whatever sins she has committed…

And this is one of the worst Historical Fiction novels I’ve ever read.

Excuse me, dear friends, but no. NO! How could one of the most important women in the History of Art be transformed into a walking snoozefest that behaves like a petulant schoolgirl is a dark mystery to me.I won’t even waste my time and yours to talk about Maria because I skipped most of her chapters to avoid gauging my eyes out with a knife. Bayern was on TV and I wanted to watch the game, needing my sight to do so. Therefore, no Maria for me after the 40% mark, thank you. In my opinion, both women are one-dimensional characters, unoriginal, boring, bad copies of female main protagonists we have seen before in much better books.

It is so sad that a beautiful setting and an exciting era went to waste due to a lack of events, repetition and implausible twists that had no function whatsoever. I mean, dear writer, show! Don’t tell. I don’t need a thousand paragraphs describing Judith and Maria’s thoughts and differences. Write an adequate dialogue and create events that have a meaning and an outcome. Don’t give me a pseudo-psychological treaty. Now that I mentioned the haunted word ‘’dialogue’’, I have to tell you that every interaction in this book sounded (to me, obviously) like an uninspired period piece seen on a second-rate TV channel. Examples follow. Proceed with caution, dearest friends:

‘’I’ll be right back.’’ (In Holland, in the year of Our Lord 1633. Yeah, dude, whatever...Seriously, I expected to come across the previous exclamation somewhere in the course of the ‘’story’’.)

And more examples, all from the same chapter:
‘’Forgive me for interrupting you. You were painting?’’
‘’Of course, that’s wonderful. I mean, obviously you’re painting, but it’s wonderful work.’’
‘’That’s perfect. Wonderful. Thank you. I’ll be back soon.’’

Welcome to the Dutch version of a Nickelodeon Art School programme taking place in the 17th century.
I must be punished for some serious sins I committed in a past life...

I’ve had such high hopes for this one and they were crushed from the very first chapters. I am aware that many readers have loved this novel but personally, it made me fall asleep. In truth, what did I expect from a book that contained the phrases ‘’She clenched her jaw shut….’’ and ‘’She sucked in a half breath…’’ ?

P.S. How do you suck in a half breath? I genuinely want to know.

Many thanks to Amberjack Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Dec 10, 2018 |
Haarlem, Holland 1633, Judith Leyster is an apprentice painter to Frans de Grebber. Judith is one of the only female painters along with Frans' daughter, Maria. Judith will do anything to be admitted to the Guild so she can sell her work. However, no female has ever been admitted. Maria is working on a secret painting, although art is not her passion, religion and atoning for her own perceived sins comes first. Judith is set on clawing her way to the top, and having independence. Maria finds herself when she sets off on her own and discovers the art of healing and helping others. The two women will need to find one another again as the men of the city decide to plot against the young, up and coming painters.

A Light of Her Own explores the lives of two little known female painters of the Dutch Golden Age. I love learning about new and important female historical figures, Judith Leyster and Maria de Grebber were real painters. History would obscure Judith's work and sell it under a man's name. In the book, I enjoyed that the plot focused on the strained friendship of the two women and their faults. The writing through Judith's eyes engaged me, the way Judith saw color, light and other features in the world around her transformed scenes that would typically be dull or boring into something magical. Judith's ambition was also refreshing. Though what she did was sometimes illegal or immoral, it was nothing that other male painters at the time weren't doing as well. Maria's point of view shed light on the religious tones of the time in Holland as well as the social system. The mystery of the disappearing linseed oil did help move the plot along, but was a little weak for me. However, I did enjoy how Judith brought the truth out in the end. Overall, an engaging story that helps bring to light the lives of female Dutch Golden Age painters.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. ( )
  Mishker | Dec 4, 2018 |
In 1633 Holland, Judith Leyster is a painter with ambitions that cannot be fulfilled. She wants to become the first woman to become a member of the Haarlem Artist’s Guild in a time when even wanting to be a woman artist is frowned upon. Maria is the daughter of a painter who taught his daughter to paint and is a Catholic in a country where Catholicism is outlawed.

Callaghan has based her remarkable debut novel on a real person, but like so many other women, very little is known about her and only a few of her paintings survived her death. The author was able to evoke seventeenth century Holland through descriptions and language. It is clear the author has done her research because, as mentioned above, there is little known about Judith, but the reader is convinced they know her so very well.

This is a riveting read with very little to take the reader out of the stories of these two remarkable women. Like other readers, I sometimes raced through the chapters devoted to Maria to return to Judith’s story. But setting that aside, this is historical fiction at its best. ( )
  OldFriend | Nov 19, 2018 |
A Light Of Her Own tells the story of Judith Leyster – a woman who actually lived and was the first women admitted to the Haarlem Artist’s Guild. In the book Ms. Callaghan imagines her apprentices with Frans de Grebber and becoming friendly with his daughter Maria. Both girls are training to be painters but only Judith feels the drive to become an artist and and start her own studio. It’s highly unusual for a woman of her time but she knows she has the talent and she wants to show it can be done.

Maria on the other hand just feels that her talent is insufficient to make up for her failings as a Catholic in a city where her religion is forbidden. She feels she needs to atone for any number of personal sins so she embarks on a journey for her father to find a lost relic and this ends up almost costing her her life.

There are also a series of seemingly unrelated subplots involving the guilds, a murder, linseed oil, lepers and virgin’s blood. I know that sounds totally bizarre and in some ways it is but trust me, it does all eventually make sense and come together in what I found to be an interesting read. I will say that having an interest in art and art history is going to make this book a more compelling read that if you don’t know your Rembrandts from your Picassos. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Nov 15, 2018 |
This novel is set during the Golden Age of Dutch painting. In 1633, in Haarlem, Judith Leyster is a young woman striving to have her own artist’s workshop and to be the first woman admitted to the artists’ guild. She struggles with money problems because the male-dominated art world seems to be conspiring against her. Meanwhile, Judith’s friend Maria is a guilt-ridden Catholic, in a time when her religion is banned, always looking for ways to atone for her perceived sins.

This book felt so flat to me. It is full of historical detail about domestic life and the technical aspects of painting, so the author obviously did considerable research. However, the novel’s style, inconsistencies in plot, and poor character development left me feeling that considerable revision is needed.

Let’s start with style. The author has a tendency to overuse short, choppy sentences: “The flash of wet paint suggested a few lines. On the right sparkled a small star. She gave a slight smile and used the back of her hand to wipe away another tear. Her monogram now marked the building as her own. She dabbed a bit . . .” Then there’s the repetition of words. For instance, some form of the word shiver is used 18 times, and cold appears 38 times! And paragraphs are so disjointed. For example, Judith and Maria go to visit a dying man: “The green-striped coverlet stippled as Maria added her hand’s weight to the bed, and Judith thought of the fields of hay bending in the wind that she had seen once while traveling to a countryside tavern. Someone had since harvested that hay, and what did the field look like now?” Is this supposed to illustrate Judith’s obsession with painting? Later, “She walked slowly along the canal and watched the ripples as well as the few remaining raindrops fracturing the reflected trees. Why was it so complicated, she wondered, to have what so many others had? A livelihood, a scrap of freedom to do as she pleased?” She admires the beauty of nature, as an artist might, but then that beauty has her bemoaning her lack of independence? Some transitions are definitely needed.

Then there are the inconsistencies and gaps in logic. Judith tells a man she has “urgent business in Den Haag” but that man later comments that she can go to Den Haag to help her friend. How does he know her urgent business is to help a friend? Judith asks a friend how long he apprenticed with the painter Frans Hals when that friend started at the same time as she did? A young boy approaches Judith and says, “’I’m from the prison. They sent me to find you, right?’” Who is “they”? Maria sees smoke coming out the window of a house but she is distracted by a bird cooing?

Maria describes a relic as “’Bone fragments. In a silver reliquary, which was itself inside a gold reliquary’” though she was told the relic was “’An ornamental silver box holding sacred bone and a carved bronze reliquary’”! Maria hopes that a priest “had not segmented the bone, [a relic], which was already small.” So it’s not bone fragments but one “already small” bone? And why would a priest lend part of an “already small” relic to a friend whose parish has “Not painters, but sculptors or some such trade”? Why would sculptors need a bone fragment?

The problem with characterization is that characters behave inconsistently. Judith is all over the place. When a friend is so ill she could die, Judith doesn’t tell her friend’s father, a loving father who is very worried about his daughter?! Then later she just blurts out the truth. She promises, against all common sense and obligation, to keep a secret and does so for the longest time, but then breaks that promise?

Oh but Maria is even more scattered. She has a traumatic experience that leaves her afraid to walk in Haarlem but then shortly afterwards she convinces her father to let her travel alone to Leiden and to stay overnight in a city she has never visited. She worries about “how she was going to find her way in a new city” but then “she declined the directional guidance of the older gentleman who had chatted with her during the ride [in the carriage to Leiden].” She stupidly doesn’t find herself accommodation for the night before curfew, thereby placing herself “in danger.” For someone so guilt-ridden about her “sins”, she lies in a letter to her father? Maria is supposed to be about 25 years old, but she behaves as if she’s half that age: “she needed to learn to sacrifice her pride. Though perhaps Judith should sacrifice hers. Maria had sacrificed so much already.” She becomes upset with Judith for breaking a promise rather than being grateful for her saving her life?

I think there’s an interesting story to be told about Judith Leyster, a real person, but unfortunately, this novel does not do that.

Note: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
1 vote Schatje | Nov 13, 2018 |
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