Monday, July 27, 2009

Pope Joan -a novel- by Donna Woolfolk Cross

This is my debut review on The Book Book and my hands are sweating like the Niagara... so I'll try to keep this short.
Like a lot of girls in the ninth century Catholic world, Joan is not allowed to read or even to learn to read.  However, like any feisty heroin, this does not stop her.  Her scholarly abilities open new doors for her but not all of them lead to a happy place. 
When her brother dies in a Viking attack and she barely manages to escape, Joan makes a decision that will keep her alive but forever disguised.  So disguised that she manages to become Pope.
Great idea for a story, eh?
Well, it ismaybe, probably true.
According to the author, the Vatican denies this story as an “unsubstantiated legend” but they seem to be disregarding “more than 500 ancient manuscripts containing accounts of Joan’s papacy.”
The author takes what little she has found and weaves out a fine story.
This is a novel about family, honor, religion, and what is all that without a bit of romance?
(While reading the book I could see the scenes clearly, I also had a soundtrack in my head complete with the sound effects of my rapidly beating heart. I am not surprised that this book is going to be a movie.)
It's a light read considering the issues the story raises.  I really enjoyed reading the book and was a bit sad that it had to end...but I will happily end my review here because I am still scared silly about posting among such great writers...


moonrat said...

ha! Thanks for the review--I've seen this title hanging about and was interested but nervous (nothing worse than disappointing historical fiction!). Sounds like this one is definitely worth the plunge--it's a really fascinating period in history, and one often overlooked. I've read some nonfiction about Pope Joan, and am generally inclined to believe she really "happened."

Thanks again! And congrats on your first review :) May many more follow.

Leigh Russell said...

It always amazes me the amount of research authors of historical fiction must have to carry out. I wonder if they ever become so caught up in the research that they lose their way and never return to their books. It must be so fascinating. I think I'd be constantly thinking, I'll just look up one more detail... How do they know when to stop? They must be so disciplined.

I_am_Tulsa said...

thank you Moonrat...I am going to say that I believe in her too.

I can be very shy about sharing my thoughts on books but this was rather "fun" so I hope I can contribute more.

Leigh, I wonder about that too...I love research and don't know when to husband is sort of angry about that since he thinks it is keeping me from writing my stories faster... LOL
By the way, I have ordered your book and will post a picture of me holding it in a very Japan-like place as soon as it gets here!

Kristin Dodge said...

Yay for your first review! I have always wanted to read a good book about this "mystery," so this is going on my list.

Jane Steen said...

Well done! It takes a bit of getting used to, knowing that your posts are actually GOING TO BE READ by someone. Then it gets addictive. Be warned.

This is a book I've actually read, and enjoyed. I like historical romances with empowered women (I'm a big Philippa Gregory fan) and the fact that it's based on a true story/legend/whatever just adds spice. I wasn't crazy about the ending but then I never am (would somebody PUH-LEEZE write a novel with an amazing ending?)

Looking forward to seeing your next review!

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the excellent review and congratulations on taking the plunge.

I've picked this book up and then put it back down again. I think that I can now safely give it a whirl after your encouraging words.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Oh dear, thank you everyone!

Kristin and Pamala, I hope you enjoy the book...

Jane, I have had a lot of trouble understanding bad endings recently too, especially with new novels...but I actually liked this one because of how it was "tied up" at the end.
Oh and I will TRY not to get "addicted"...posts are scary when you realize people actually read them! lol

woolfcross said...

Hi, Tulsa (et al!)

I'm Donna Woolfolk Cross, the author of Pope Joan, writing to thank you for the nice (and very well-written!) review of my novel.

Moonrat--you're right in thinking that one can make a good case for Joan's actual historical existence.

Leigh-- I did a lot of research on the ninth century before I even started in on Joan--for it's important to get a feel for the "mindset" of a period before you begin to write. That's what I love when I read historical fiction--that palpable sense of time and place that makes you feel like you actually lived back then. So I worked hard to create that in my novel.

Jane, I'm glad you also enjoy stories about "empowered women" (as I do) but remember I had little choice about the ending, as that's how chronicle accounts describe Joan's death. That's why I added the "Epilogue"--to make it clear that Joan's legacy of empowerment through learning endures--through the lives she touched, in particular that of a young woman whose life she changed forever (can't say more without making it a "spoiler").

Kristin--if you do decide to read Pope Joan, buy a copy before August 9th, for that qualifies you for my offer to "Walk the Red Carpet"--in other words, join me for the U.S. movie premiere. Details are at

Pamela--your comment made me smile. Hope that Tulsa's review helps you pick the book back up again and read Joan's story--for in my view, she is an inspirational woman!

If anyone wants to contact me directly, they can do so at the book website,

Great start, Tulsa, and congratulations on your "debut"! But as your readers have warned you, others do read these things--including authors!

Thanks and best wishes to all--


moonrat said...


I'm a book editor, and I encourage all my authors to do exactly what you did (seek out reviews and comment). Kudos to you for engaging with readers.

FYI you're one of two authors who's ever commented on a review on this blog... the other was A.S. King. Other people don't get it yet.

Thanks again!

I_am_Tulsa said...

I am so happy and honored to have Donna reply to the comments and "congratulate me"!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to write here and thank you Donna for actually visiting the Book Book!