Friday, August 24, 2012

Nell by Jeanette Baker

by Jeanette Baker

Genre: Contempory Fiction | Romance | Historical

Jillian Fitgerald, whose grand house had 60 rooms, grew up together with Frankie Maguire, the kennel keeper's son, in Northern Ireland. That she was rich and he was poor did not daunt their dreams of someday marrying. But Jillian was headed for a privileged life and the university. Frankie, drawn into the nationalist cause, faced a charge of murder and the dark walls of a jail cell.

With their lives torn apart, there seemed no chance for Jillian and Frankie. But the heart owns knowledge to which the mind is not privy. Generations before, an Irish princess, Eleanor "Nell" Fitzgerald, her family killed, her life in jeopardy, her beloved torn from her arms, was preparing to reach out to another woman who shared her heritage...a woman in another century. Now, from the court of Henry VIII to the violent streets of modern Belfast, Nell and Jillian will become two souls joined in one courageous battle to prove that neither prison bars nor the hands of time can stop the power of love...

Jilly had always been an innocent and ambitious child that quickly developed a life-long crush on her ancestral family's kennel keeper's son. She also had a privileged but lonely childhood. As a result, she constantly craved knowledge for her endless curiosity which she unexpectedly found in Frankie's calm guidance. From an early age, she learned to unbiasedly appreciate the differences around her, something very rare in Northern Ireland's 1970s Protestant/Catholic mayhem. As she aged, her trust and love in Frankie grew significantly until a fatal family accident tore them apart for almost twenty-years. Jilly kept hope during their years of separation because of a sacred promise made between them to wait for each other. But, adolescent promises cannot always be kept in times of war/turmoil and Jilly, before long, finds her life headed in a very different direction than first expected.
Throughout it all, a deeper secret has physically haunted Jilly since childhood--the spirit of Nell, a family relative from over 400-years in the past. Thought of as an imaginary-friend while young, Jilly could never understand why Nell was visible only to herself and no-one else. Nevertheless, both related ladies soon found themselves on a mission to solve each others personal struggles since both shared the ingrained ability of stepping through time to be the voice of wisdom in each others time of need.

  The truth behind the children's symbiotic attraction to each other lay somewhere within the core of them, a remote gene that had transferred itself from generation to generation, occasionally hidden but always there, through thousands of years of Maguire and Fitzgerald ancestors, to germinate in the minds and hearts of two children who were the best of those who had gone before.

Frankie knew his limitations early on, especially in regards to Jilly and her high-classed families expectations. As much as he had like to dream about his future as a veterinarian graduate and a life with the girl he shared a strong connection with, the harsh reality forced on fellow Catholics like him quickly altered his perception. Foolishly thinking that the law would not condemn a young boy for an accidental murder, Frankie found himself on prison row and sliding deeper in the Irish Republic Army's activities--away from Jilly and the marriage promise they made. Consequently, Frankie slyly adopted a new identity, took on a more powerful role within his Catholic community, and basically dropped off the face of the earth before being discovered by Jilly many years later. When destiny crossed his path with Jilly years later, both were living extremely opposite lifestyles. Thus, Frankie became torn about overcoming the political prejudices set against them in hopes of finally being together with Jilly--or will the deep-seated beliefs that Protestant/Catholic relationships could never last overshadow his youthful dream?
On the flip side, Nell's relationship struggles back in the 1500s intensifies when the Celtic warrior Donal attempted to keep her from harms-way after her family fell apart in Tudor England. Living in a time when women held little control over their futures, Nell and Donal shared a bond that intensified as they become betrothed. Furthermore, the heart wants what the heart wants no matter what the King of England may say in the matter.

It was only natural that a child like Jilly, craving acceptance and answers and finding none, should be drawn to a boy who had both. That she was rich and he poor meant nothing. The Catholic/Protestant thing meant even less. While Jilly was impetuous, needle-sharp, and completely without prejudice, Frankie was deliberate, compassionate, and tirelessly patient...

I began this story expecting more of a time-travel adventure, but come out of it enjoying a sweet budding romance that started at a young age and continued into adulthood. The overall tale was gripping and emotionally heart-breaking but also fascinating with presenting how fickle fate can be. No matter how much Frankie and Jilly may have chosen to pull away from each other at a young age, they were always drawn back together...eventually. Moreover, the Irish chaos created around them only intensified their eventually union while any attempts of avoidance as adults in creating anything more was as good as meaningless in the reader's eyes--who could easily witness the internal struggle both went through throughout the story. Additionally, the supernatural aspect of Nell and Jilly being each others spirit guide was out-of-the-ordinary but ultimately feel flat for me. Neither really contributed very much to the others story and could have easily been cut out all-together without much of a difference throughout the general tale. All in all, if you are an historical fiction fan that takes pleasure in endless romances full of tension and turmoil, you will like Baker's book. Enjoy! 

Likes: How both Jilly and Frankie stayed true to each other in their own ways. I will not go into details her because of spoilers, but it was still charming overall.

Dislikes: The two stories (i.e. Jilly/Frankie and Nell/Donal) did not really complement each other as I had hoped. I would have enjoyed more similarities between the two tales and, sadly, about half way through the book they were no longer created as parallel point-of-views but instead as two separate entities. To me, it felt almost as if Jilly's story eclipsed everything else in the book and that Nell's tale was not really needed to complete the story--almost like her life narrative was only there for filler and would have been much better as a prequel.
Chapter One/Paragraph One: In Jillian's mind, Francis Maguire would forever be associated with the pungent, woolly smell of wet dog. It never occurred to her that it was the slightest bit unusual for the closed-in world of the Kildare kennel to evoke images of a boy's callused palm and defined calf muscles, of his thin, sun-browned hand and rich, healing voice, of black hair and winter-gray eyes, of warmth and giving and all that she'd known of acceptance and compassion and sharing. Considering the privileged circumstance of Jilly's birth and the underprivileged one of Frankie's, the way she felt was beyond unusual. It was extraordinary.

Favorite { Scene, Character or Setting }: Scene

     Leaving her lemonade untouched, Jilly turned to stare out over the storm, showing him only her profile. "Do you think our lives will be any different, Frankie?"
     Struck by the maturity of her question, he started at her, noticing for the first time the way the morning light outlines the delicate edge of her cheek and chin, the shape of her nose, and the pure clean line of her throat. He remembered the she was only thirteen, and a wave of color swept across his face.
     Turning away, he considered her question. "Maybe not so different, but at least we'll have hope for somethin' better. That's more than we have now."
     Slowly, she turned to look at him with that new maturity he had never noticed before. "What could be better than this?" She waved her arm to encompass their surroundings.
     "For me, this is the exception," he said, keeping his gaze averted. "You wouldn't know about that."
     "It's not always life this for me, either, Frankie. Would you care to change places and see?"
     "Don't be ridiculous."
     "Answer the question. Would you want to go home to my family, to Terrence, my mother, and my father?"
     "Perhaps not Terrence," he said, attempting a note of levity.
     "I didn't think so."
     She stood and walked toward the stream to dip her feet. Frankie couldn't take his eyes off the slender curves of her bare legs under the rolled-up overalls or the way her body dipped in at the waist and flared slightly at her hips. Christ, what was the matter with him? This was Jilly. She was a schoolgirl, and he was nearly seventeen. There were plenty of girls in the village for what he had in mind, even more in Belfast. His spirits lifted.
     Tomorrow, Monday, was the day he would leave. By Wednesday, his examinations would be over, and he would have seven days to himself, seven days of freedom, of pubs and films, of Guinness and music, seven days of museums and theater, of shops and craic and women. Sheer heaven to one who measured the success of his entertainment by the size of the crowds in Kilvara on market day. Tomorrow, he would have forgotten all about his sudden fascination with a tomboy with too many freckles, a girl who though fishing for trout was the best life had to offer, a girl he had no business noticing in the first place.
Online Preview: Read an Excerpt
In Northern Ireland, Getting Past the Troubles: Article


  1. Makes me wonder what I would think about the book. I might add this one to the TBR. Great review.

    Beth ^_^


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