Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

I knew Jennifer Chiaverini as the quilt novel author.  She introduced me to the idea that quilts were signposts for the Underground Railroad in The Runaway Quilt which I loved.  I knew that she'd been writing biographical novels of female historical figures, but I didn't sit up and take notice until it was Ada Lovelace in Enchantress of Numbers.  I've always wanted to know more about her role in the development of the early precursors to computers.   So I requested an ARC from Net Galley and was delighted when I was approved by the publisher.   This is my review.

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Most discussions of Ada Lovelace begin by mentioning that she was Byron's daughter and that her parents scandalously separated.    What's really astonishing in the context of the period is that her mother got custody of Ada.   Children were considered property belonging to their fathers in 19th century England.  In this case, it came down to the fact that Ada's mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke known as Annabella to her friends, came from a wealthy family and Byron was debt-ridden.   Debt was a major motivation for his marriage.  So it seemed to me that Annabella's family was in a good position to buy justice for their daughter.  It's probably just as well because the only time Byron did have custody of a daughter, he relinquished his parenting responsibility by packing her off to a convent.

Based on Chiaverini's depiction, Annabella wouldn't receive any awards for parenting herself.  Yet she should be credited with making certain that Ada followed in her footsteps by pursuing mathematics.   This was an extraordinary education for a daughter of the aristocracy.  According to the article about her on Wikipedia, Annabella's parents hired a Cambridge professor as her tutor.
 If Ada hadn't had Annabella as her mother, it's unlikely that she would have been so advanced mathematically.

 In The Enchantress of Numbers, Ada's scientific mentor Mary Somerville told Ada about her conflict with her own parents over her studies.   It was widely believed at that time that women's health would be jeopardized by intellectual stimulation.  Mary Somerville's experiences caused Ada to appreciate her mother's encouragement of her scientific inclinations.  I had never heard of Mary Somerville before I read this book, and was glad of the opportunity to learn about this foremother for woman scientists.

We can't really know about Ada's contribution to Charles Babbage's conceptualization of his proto-computers the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine.  This is a topic that is fodder for  speculation for historical novelists like Chiaverini.  I made the same argument about Einstein and his first wife in my review of The Other Einstein here.  I feel that it's just as legitimate to claim that Ada made a significant contribution as to claim that she made none, and that it was all Babbage's idea.  I believe that Chiaverini is persuasive about what she attributes to Ada Lovelace.

Ada's written notes are clearly attributable to her, and they show her to be a woman ahead of her time.   The Enchantress of Numbers displays her context.  She had influences, and sources of support which do not lessen her achievements.   Isaac Newton is quoted as having said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of giants."  Jennifer Chiaverini helps us to identify who Ada might have stood on.   Yet every designer of a computer algorithm stands on Ada's shoulders because she created the very first such algorithm.




 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Avishi: The Warrior Queen With An Iron Leg-- Blog Tour and Review


                               
                                                 


 SUMMARY:



Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?


 Review

 I'd like to add a new warrior queen to my favorites list alongside Boudica and Zenobia.   Avishi fought for her people against an empire building tyrant.  She is remembered in the Rig Veda as Vishpala who fought with a leg made of metal in ancient India before recorded history.   Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer tells her story, and the story of  Satya, the extraordinary healer whose dream was to create an artificial leg that would allow amputees to continue the lives they had before the amputation.  I received a free copy of this novel from b00k r3vi3w tours in return for this review.

Avishi  celebrates a forgotten milestone for the disabled, but it's also a plotted narrative with characters who experience internal and external conflict.   Avishi and Satya have a romantic relationship that is complicated by the fact that marriage is a recent innovation in their society.   Marriage is associated with monarchy. Monarchy is represented in this novel by the invader, Khela who seeks to conquer the democratic settlement  of Ashtagani.  Ashtagani is the home of Avishi and Satya.

 So the institution of marriage becomes bound up in the political struggle.  In our contemporary context questioning the value of marriage is a radical idea, but for these protagonists the acceptance of marriage is a very fundamental change.   There was no agreement about the purpose of marriage, how marriage should work or who would be ideal partners in a marriage.

I loved Avishi and Satya, and was moved by their story.  I was also fascinated by the themes raised in Avishi.  For readers who are interested, there is a bibliography of the author's sources which includes resources on prosthetics, marriage and democracy in ancient India.  Saiswaroopa Iyer deserves recognition as an emerging talent, and as a thorough researcher.



About the Author:




Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. 


 
 






Sunday, September 17, 2017

Perfiditas: Defending The Matriarchy of Roma Nova

Perfiditas is the second book in Alison Morton's Roma Nova series.  I received it as a gift from the author through Book Funnel.  I recently reviewed the first of the series Inceptio here.  For more information about Morton's alternate universe read my review of Inceptio.  I do need to tell readers that the former Karen Brown is now Roma Novan Carina Mitela and an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF).

                           


It's the responsibility of the PGSF  to protect Roma Nova from all threats foreign or domestic.   In  Inceptio there was a foreign threat, but in Perfiditas there is an internal threat to the matriarchy.

In order to defeat this threat, PGSF really needs Carina's unorthodox tactics, but officers who think by the book dominate the hierarchy as is typical in military organizations.  This makes Carina a controversial figure similar to Captain Kirk of Star Trek.  Readers who identify with Carina may be outraged on her behalf.  They may think that her husband Conrad should be more supportive.

The plot is exciting.  It includes suspenseful sequences of events, and reversals of fortune.   It shows the fortitude of female Roma Novans from small girls to grandmothers. Perfiditas also displays the loyalty of most of the men of  Roma Nova to the matriarchy.
I was pleased that men in general didn't want to see the Imperatrix overthrown, and weren't interested in collaborating with misogynistic men.   During the alleged "Golden Age of Science Fiction" there were a number of matriarchal dystopias that appeared in which the men rose up against them.  So I find Perfiditas a refreshing turnabout of this classic formula.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mistress Suffragette

My readers here know that I love to read and review novels about suffragettes.  This year  I've reviewed a YA mystery dealing with suffragettes here and a novel about a suffragette in South Carolina hereMistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes is a debut romance taking place in America during the Gilded Age.

I rarely read or review romances. I like unusual books, and romances tend to run to formula. So when I got the request for this review, I had to take a look at what was being said about Mistress Suffragette on Goodreads.  It sounded like there would be more emphasis on the context than I would normally find in a historical romance.  This is why I accepted a review copy, and I am now posting an honest review.

                     


There is a repeating pattern for all three of the suffragette novels I've read this year.  It seemed to me that the protagonists aren't as strong or as interesting as supporting characters.  I always find this disappointing. In my review of In The Fullness of Time by Katherine Stillerman which is the second review linked above, I speculated that the authors may think their protagonists are more relatable.

  When we first meet Penelope Stanton, the protagonist of Mistress Suffragette,  she's sheltered, spoiled and somewhat shallow.   She makes the occasional witty remark, but frankly I found her thoroughly unsympathetic.   I told myself she would improve when she stopped being under her mother's thumb.  She did improve.  She began to be more thoughtful.   Yet throughout the novel, Penelope ends up being swayed by those who surround her.  Some of her worst decisions could only be explained by the proximity of a strong minded individual over-riding her judgment.  She seemed to lack self-determination.

I preferred Verdana, a feminist activist that Penelope encounters after she leaves home.  Verdana's focus is on women's clothing reform to increase mobility.  Verdana is bold within the context of her period.  I liked her self-acceptance and genuine desire to help other women.   For much of the book, Verdana's cause is more central than women's suffrage.  Yet I enjoyed Verdana's expansion of Penelope's consciousness by introducing ideas and experiences that were foreign to her.

Speaking of new experiences, I thought that the scene in which Penelope learns to use a gun and becomes an instant sharpshooter unrealistic.   If you've ever tried to handle a gun for the first time, you know that there's a kick that will be unexpected.  It tends to throw people off.  Diana Forbes should have consulted with someone who knows guns when she was writing that scene.

I  was also irritated by certain character name choices. Names like Daggers or Stalker sound like mustache twirling villains in staged melodramas from the period that Forbes was writing about.  Real people weren't likely to have names like those. I felt that they were heavy handed and predictable.  They would be more appropriate for a satire.

So although there were characters and moments in Mistress Suffragette that pleased me, the book definitely did have flaws.  Judging from reviews, some readers may overlook those issues.  I am hoping that Diane Forbes learned from the experience of writing this book and will produce better work in the future.
                              

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Inceptio-- What if Rome Was Ruled by Women?

Alison Morton tells us in her acknowledgements at the end of Inceptio  that she'd been wondering what the Roman Empire would have been like if it were a matriarchy since she was eleven years old.  That was the origin of the Roma Nova alternate historical thriller series.  Inceptio is the first volume in that series.

 Instead of going back to the beginnings of Rome for the divergence point of her alternate universe, Morton starts with the establishment of Roma Nova.  Morton's Roma Nova is a Roman colony beyond the borders of the Empire which was established during the reign of Theodosius in the 4th century C.E. which is very late in Roman history.   Roma Nova may be located in part of the territory that we call Switzerland in our universe.  There is also a mention of a nation called Helvetica which may be where the peoples of  our Switzerland reside. I'm not entirely certain.  If the author had provided a map, that would have settled the matter.

 The founders of Roma Nova left Rome when Theodosius outlawed all Pagan practices.  This and other background appears in the Introduction which avoids info dumps within the novel's text.  I applaud Morton's solution to this world building problem. 

I received Inceptio for free from the author through Instafreebie which doesn't require downloaders to review free books.  The premise sounded fascinating, but it took me a while to get to Inceptio due to review commitments.

                           


Inceptio takes place in the altered 21st century. Roma Nova is a place where Latin is the primary spoken language.  It's ruled by an Imperatrix and families are matrilineal.  Men marry into the families of their wives. We follow the story of a young woman whose mother was a Roma Novan. She was born in the alternate version of the US.  As the novel opens she is introduced to us as Karen Brown, but events rapidly change her sense of identity. I admired Karen for her adaptability, resourcefulness and courage.

The plot is appropriately fast paced for a thriller with a great deal of action.   Morton doesn't linger to provide very many cultural references or explanations.  There are Latin terms, but I found it easy to understand them from context.  Aside from the setting, the events could be taking place in our 21st century.   There may be variant power hierarchies, but I got the impression that this isn't really a world that's very different from our own.  Modern technology is ubiquitous and societal problems are similar.  I didn't feel that Roma Nova was either a utopia or a dystopia.   

My one disappointment with Inceptio is that I expected to see characters more involved in Roman Pagan customs and institutions.   The founders of Roma Nova apparently left Rome when they did because they valued the traditions and practices of Roman Paganism.  I hoped that there would be more extensive content related to Pagan rituals, and that there might be at least one character who was a priestess.   I wondered if Morton's Praetorians might be Mithrans like many of the ancient Roman soldiers in our world, but there were no mentions of Mithras or any practices associated with Mithraism in Inceptio.   There were also no references to other popular mystery cults of the ancient Roman world.  Perhaps Morton believes that Pagan religion would have largely faded away as a response to science and technology, but in our 21st century there is a significant population that are believers in some form of religion.   I wanted to meet Roma Novans who were equally committed to some of the spiritual paths of ancient Rome.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Inceptio and the evolution of its female protagonist into a strong and capable woman.   I expect to continue on her journey in the remainder of the series.            
                                

                            


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Exiled: Anna Fekete Demands Justice In Serbia

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto is the third in a series of mysteries dealing with police detective Anna Fekete who lives and works in Finland.  In this book, she goes home to see her family in Serbia and encounters murder in Kanizsa, her home village.  I won this novel in a Goodreads giveaway in 2016. It is the last of  five Goodreads giveaway wins from last year.  I have finally gotten it read while it's still  Women in Translation (WIT) month. Kati Hiekkapelto originally wrote this book in Finnish.  For more information about WIT month see an interview with the Israeli woman scientist who originated it here .

                                 


This is the first novel I've read in this series, but my perception is that Anna Fekete is not a noir detective.  She believes in values that are considered old fashioned in the 21st century like integrity and justice.  The violence in this novel also isn't on the level of the really dark Scandinavian noir that I've read.  There are no stomach churning details.  Although there is 21st century cynicism and corruption on the part of the local authorities in Serbia, I would call this noir lite, and I definitely prefer that. I hate finishing a book feeling totally disgusted as happens with most noir.

I was also glad to see a woman who wouldn't back down no matter how many people told her not to investigate the death of the man who stole her handbag.  It seemed to me that she's a rare woman. Someone else wouldn't have cared about the death of a thief--especially when the thief had stolen from her.  He was Romani and Anna thought he deserved justice.    Anna relied on the assistance of her loyal friend, Reka, a local journalist who gave her information and contacts.  Another woman that I really liked in this novel was Judit, a Romani community leader.

The parallel between Romani in Serbia and African Americans in the United States was very clear in The Exiled.  Romani lives didn't matter.  Whites in Serbia made the exact same sort of  contemptuous comments about Romani as white racists tend to make about African Americans in the U.S.   The people in Anna's village were Hungarians, an ethnic minority in Serbia.  They didn't like it when the government of Serbia discriminated against them, but too many of them looked down on Romani and considered them worthless.

Anna reflected about the village where she was born, and wondered about what home meant.   Could she really feel at home with people who didn't share her values?  I identified with Anna's inner struggle over this issue. 

The current massive refugee problem is part of the background of The Exiled .  The same people who denigrate Romani were equally prejudiced against refugees.  Anna went to the refugee camp with the village's Orthodox priest to see if she could help them.  

The genuinely decent woman protagonist, and her fight against both bigotry and corruption gave The Exiled stature.   It's a cut above the usual mystery.  I look forward to reading the next in the series when it becomes available in English.   



                                 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Pearl Thief

I've read two books by Elizabeth Wein dealing with female pilots, and reviewed one of them on this blog here.  Female pilots are a focus of  this blog. Wein created some memorable women and girls flying planes in  Rose Under Fire  and Black Dove, White Raven.

 I do need to point out that Julie, the central character of The Pearl Thief , isn't a pilot.  She's the spy protagonist of Wein's Code Name Verity which I didn't read because it was written in a way that didn't hold my attention.  There's supposed to be a movie in development.  If this film ever manifests, I suspect I will like it better than the book.

The Pearl Thief  is a prequel about Julie's early life in Scotland.  So why would I want to read the prequel to a book I didn't even like, and why would I think the review should be posted to Flying High Reviews?   You'll have to read my review to find out the answer to these questions, but I'll tell you right now that I did read every wonderful page of The Pearl Thief.

                                   


The main reason why I wanted to read The Pearl Thief is because British Travellers are prominent in the plot.  Travellers are often confused with the Romani who are now believed to have originated in India.  Travellers are native to Britain.  They were also called Tinkers because they mended pots and kettles, but the term Tinker was used as an insult.  Elizabeth Wein serves up intriguing snippets of the history and culture of Travellers in this novel.  I'd love to find out more.
 
Yet this blog is supposed to center on strong female characters.  Are there any in The Pearl Thief ?  You bet! First and foremost is the Traveller girl, Ellen who braves prejudice and abuse whenever she tangles with people in authority.   She's also fiercely loyal to her family.   Another strong female character is Ellen's dog Pinky who also exhibits bravery in the face of any threat to Ellen. Julie is willing to challenge convention by calling Travellers friends and defending them.  She also occasionally dressed in a man's kilt and was mistaken for a boy.

Another reason why I wanted to read this latest book by Wein is that it's a mystery beginning as a missing person case.   I am a fan of the mystery genre and this one involves several surprising twists. So this is an absorbing and well constructed mystery with great characters and a strong statement against prejudice.  I expect this to be one of my best reads of 2017.


                                       
                                   






Saturday, May 13, 2017

In The Fullness of Time: A Novel About A Fictional South Carolina Suffragette

Suffragettes are a favorite historical topic of mine.  So far this year I've reviewed  The Poison in All of Us,  a murder mystery dealing with suffragettes, on this blog here.  I've also reviewed a biography of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here.   So I was glad to see a request to review another suffragette novel in my e-mail.   That book was In The Fullness of  Time by Katherine P. Stillerman.  I received a free copy in return for this honest review.
                                    

 I wasn't aware that this book was a sequel until I finished it and read the Author's Note.  The first book was Hattie's Place and dealt with the same protagonist.  Since I haven't read it, I can only speculate about Hattie's Place based on its description.  It sounds more character centered than In The Fullness of Time.

 There is a good deal of telling and conversing about events that occurred off the narrative stage.   When an author does this, it distances the readers from those events.   If they are events that are significant in the lives of the characters, the audience may also feel distanced from the characters.  We don't find out what the characters were feeling and thinking as we would if we got to experience the events in real time as the characters experienced them.  


When I read about the focus and source of inspiration for this book in the Author's Note, I understood why Stillerman made the choices that she did. Like many American feminists, she was impressed by the fact that a woman was running for President of the United States.  So the symbolism of publishing a suffragette novel in these circumstances was irresistible. As a feminist myself, I was sympathetic to that perspective.  Unfortunately, this meant that at times Stillerman was more focused on the history of women's suffrage than on the characters.  It seems to me that the result was that her novel had less impact.

Another problem for me is that I was most interested in Hattie's sister in law, Alice, because she was more independent minded than Hattie.  I often wished that Alice was the protagonist.   Perhaps Stillerman thought that Alice was too unconventional and therefore less relatable for her audience.   Some readers also might think that the book would feel more historically authentic with a more typical woman as the central character.  Yet women like Alice did exist,  and I believe that novels that feature them inspire current readers.  It's also possible that if I had read Hattie's Place, I would have considered Hattie a stronger protagonist.

The male character that I considered most interesting was dead before the novel opened.   He was Alice's husband, Raymond,  an innovative physician with extraordinary insight.   I would love to read a book about Alice's unusual  marriage to this man.   Instead the story of Alice's marriage was used as a learning experience for Hattie.  It seems to me that there would be more dramatic power in showing Alice's experiences first hand.

There was an aspect of In The Fullness of Time that I considered valuable because I love history.   Stillerman describes the political process of how women's suffrage became law in the U.S. on both the federal and state levels, and all the obstacles to achieving ratification.  I have never seen a novel that was this detailed about all the practical politics involved in this issue.  Stillerman cites an extensive bibliography in her Notes on Sources.  Her research definitely shows.  For me, all the details made fascinating reading.  Suffragette novels usually only show dramatic high points in the struggle which is more entertaining for the general reader.   I imagine that I am an outlier, and that most of her audience would prefer a book that is more novelistic.  



 

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

@SiobhanMFallon Hits Home (Or Jordan) with Strong Moral

The Confusion of Languages
As I read this book, I really disliked it, not because of the writing or even the style though that did take some adjustment at first as it goes from present back to what is being read in a journal, but because I didn't like either of the women. Yet, I have to admit, it's a brutally honest depiction of women in real life. The jealousy, the need to be accepted, the looking down on others, the finding of faults... Sadly, most women, instead of picking each other up, put each other down, and are two faced with each one another. In this novel we don't just see the faces women show the world; we see the vicious other face not usually novelized. Because who wants to sit down and immerse themselves in petty jealousy and hatred? In backstabbing and assumption? In eyeballing someone else's spouse?

It's like Devious Maids in Jordan in Army wife format.

But towards the end, as we're finding out what exactly happened and why, I was riveted. I was skimming just because I had to know what happened. I was engrossed despite my dislike of the characters. And then as I turned the last page, I realized that this novel really made me think deep. There's a strong moral here...DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Be careful what you say about others. The repercussions can be vast.

And again, what I took from this is: Women, stop competing with each other. Stop eyeballing each other. Stop putting each other down. We need to band together and help, really help each other. Not pretend help, not help only as long as it benefits us.

Anyway, there's a reason for the pettiness and the jealousy and the thoughts. We have two women in Jordan, both married to Army men. One is childless and resents the other, the prettier, the smaller, the mother. Little does she know that what she sees is not really what is there.

Another interesting thing about this novel is the look into how we should behave in other cultures; how if we don't adapt, things can go very wrong.

I read You Know When the Men Are Gone and I've come to the conclusion Siobhan Fallon is a master writer and has given us yet another thought-evoking read. You can take away a lot from this if you think about what you're reading.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Golden Spider: Female Medical Student Invents Groundbreaking Medical Device in a Steampunk Novel

I don't normally read  steampunk romantic thrillers, but The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick sounded like a doozy.  Lady Amanda, the female protagonist, is attending medical school and spends her spare time at home working on a device that can reverse paralysis.  I wanted to know more about this woman.   So I requested a sample through Instafreebie, and then purchased the book on Amazon.

                              


Lady Amanda is the daughter of a duke, but she has no interest in the marriage market.  Her goal for the last five years has been the perfecting of her neurarachnid which can theoretically replace neurons to restore movement to paralyzed limbs.  Her brother Ned, the future duke, is her planned first human subject.    Unfortunately, he is very self-centered.  So it's hard to find him sympathetic despite the fact that his legs are paralyzed.   Amanda isn't as much devoted to her brother as she is to the practice of medicine.  She refuses to marry any man who won't allow her to be a physician after the wedding.   Needless to say, it's difficult to find a man who will accede to these terms even in the steampunk alternate universe.  Yet there is HEA in store even for the strong-willed Lady Amanda.

Another aspect of this book that interested me is the investigation of a series of gruesome murders.  All the victims are gypsies.   There is some gypsy culture included in the book that I appreciated.  I was also delighted that gypsies were known as masters of clockwork.

Opinion on this book is divided.  Some readers who love to read steampunk that really develops the scientific side of the devices which the protagonists invent, complain that there is too much romance in this novel.   Other readers complain that there is too much scientific detail in The Golden Spider.  My objection was a failure of realism.  There were medical miracles, but apparently the restored limbs needed no prolonged physical therapy. I can see how lengthy physical therapy would be problematic for the plot, but I found the failure to even mention physical therapy hard to swallow.  I did think the book was an enjoyable read, but  I expect to deduct a star from my rating on Goodreads.

 Correction 4/1l/17-- Perhaps I was writing too many reviews at once this weekend, but I forgot to look over all my notes for this book.  There was a mention of a physical therapist, but physical therapy was absent from the plot.  It played no role.  There were unrealistic recovery times.  So my point still holds.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rebellion Novelized

Through the BarricadesI watched Revolution on Netflix a few months ago. Had I not, everything contained within this novel would have been new to me. Because I watched the series, I knew what the heroine was getting herself into and that she was stupid. But she has heart and spunk, I'll give her that, and I enjoyed her tale. It's a tale of brother against brother, country against country, lover against lover, as she is an Irish rebel and he's in the British Army. At the same time he's fighting his own friends. Of course we don't realize this going into the novel at first, not unless you know your Irish history.

I loved the love story. The hero stole my own heart and that's rare. I also really liked the lesson in the pages..about how people are kept down with poverty, and nobody rises above their station without education.

The novel also showed us the kindness of many people during that time, folks who worked in soup kitchens, landlords who tried to help tenants... They may be few and far between but there was good with the bad. THOUGH I didn't really buy into Daniel's dad's change of heart.

Loved the heroine despite that fact I knew she was doing something rather idiotic--though I guess it depends on how you look at it, because as the heroine states at the end of the tale...they made a difference by changing the way some people thought and that was a start for some, while an end for others.

Highly recommend. I borrowed this on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Poison in All of Us--A YA Historical Mystery of a Murdered Suffragette

Connie B. Dowell, the author of  The Poison in All of Us, had me at the word "suffragettes" in the description.  I love reading about suffragettes.  It's one of the things that Tara and I have in common.   So I accepted a free copy of Dowell's novella in return for this honest review.

                                     


 The Poison in All of Us takes place in a small town the year before the 19th amendment to the U.S. constitution was ratified by enough states to make women's suffrage the law of the land.  The fictional town of Cora, Georgia was deeply divided on the issue. The women's club voting in favor of women's suffrage plunged this community into what seemed like an escalating spiral of violence which began with the murder of Miss Letty, the leader of the pro-suffrage faction.

The protagonist, Emmie McAllister  is a gutsy and outspoken young woman whose main ambition as the book opens is to buy a motorcycle.   Women riding motorcycles are as fascinating to me as suffragettes which is why Tara's Ride For Rights is one of my favorite books.  So Emmie on her Harley went a long way toward getting me to accept her penchant for taking foolish risks.  I just hope she'll grow out of that tendency over the course of the series.

Dessa, who joins Emmie in investigating the murder,  is practical, cautious and analytical.   There were numerous times when I wondered why Dessa wasn't the protagonist because she noticed things that Emmie didn't.  This made her a superior investigator.   On the other hand, sometimes someone who is investigating a murder needs to be brazen, to take actions that no one expects or to be able to respond quickly to events on her handy motorcycle.  So Emmie and Dessa would make a good team if they weren't antagonistic frenemies for a good part of the narrative.   Their relationship does evolve when Emmie learns more about what motivates Dessa.   I have to say that once Dessa's circumstances are fully revealed, I considered her a more sympathetic character than Emmie.

So what is "the poison in all of us"?  I believe that it's the prejudice that divided the town of Cora.   The animus against women's suffrage didn't end in Georgia for quite some time.  Dowell reveals in her author's note that Georgia didn't ratify the 19th amendment until 1970!

The Poison In All of Us is a suspenseful mystery that also makes strong statements about societal divisions and political corruption.






Monday, March 13, 2017

Kate Warne: Trailblazing Heroine @theladygreer

Girl in DisguiseI really enjoyed this novel but throughout the reading of it felt something I wanted to be there wasn't. Perhaps it's a case of not as much mystery as I'd hoped for, no "whodunit-ness". I wish there had been more cases honestly, but after reading the author's note and discovering how very little data there is to find about this remarkable woman, I say she did a great job with what she had.

The novel recreates Kate Warne's life from the moment she became a Pinkerton agent. She convinces Pinkerton to hire her, the first woman agent. She learns deceit even though it bothers her at times--the jewelry store manager. It explains why rumors abounded about her and Pinkerton but doesn't make her "that woman". She battles animosity within the ranks. She falls in love. She spies for the Union.

It was intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the writing well done too. I could visualize everything, put myself in the scene.I recommend this story to any woman who chooses that "unconventional" path. Or heck, if you've ever thought of taking that path... A true heroine and trailblazer was Kate Warne.

I received this via Amazon Vine.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mad Maggie--Alternative Healer and Eco Activist

Mad Maggie and the Mystery of the Ancients by Rod Raglin probably isn't going to be widely reviewed, but I think it deserves to be considered by more readers.  This isn't just because the author gifted it to me. 

 Maggie Whiteside, the heroine of this unusual romance, heals people with herbs and paranormal abilities.  She  also stands in opposition to a developer who intends to destroy the forest where she lives.   Yet those activities aren't what makes her stand out.  Maggie is a schizophrenic who is portrayed with sensitivity.  A schizophrenic heroine who gets her own HEA? I definitely haven't seen that before in a romance.  

 I love it when genres are expanded beyond their previous limits.  This can happen in indie books like this one because the author doesn't have to listen to the gatekeepers of the genre telling him or her that the audience doesn't want to read that sort of thing.   And maybe the gatekeepers are right about the majority of readers, but there are also readers like me who are interested in anything that's different.

                                       



I won Eagleridge Bluffs, another Eco-Warriors romance by Rod Raglin, in a Booklikes giveaway some time ago. That book has a new title and a new cover now.  It might have been revised.  At the time, I found an aspect of the heroine's portrayal  very unrealistic.   When I learned that this book's protagonist is schizophrenic, I wondered if I would be making similar comments about her.  Instead I was convinced by the characterization of Maggie because Raglin did his homework this time.  He cites a memoir of a schizophrenic woman in his acknowledgements.  

Maggie's psychotic episodes are severe and disruptive.   She faces prejudice and medications with significant side effects, but her healing and paranormal gifts are also portrayed as very real.  Some readers may not believe that Maggie could cope with schizophrenia in the way that she did,  but people need to realize that psychiatry hasn't been able to cure schizophrenia with medication.   Medication only controls the condition temporarily.  So there's a great deal that isn't known or understood about schizophrenia. 

Readers who don't prefer fantasy may wonder if this novel is too fantastical for them.   I'd say that the fantasy content represents only about 10% of the narrative.  Maggie's alternative healing involves more herbalism than magic.   Since the romantic hero is a lawyer, there is actually far more legal content than fantasy. 

Maggie is such an unexpected protagonist with so many barriers to achieving her dreams that I found her inspiring.  I cheered for every single one of her victories.  I feel that few romance heroines deserved HEA more.



                            

Monday, February 20, 2017

Queen Mary's Stories Come Alive in A Bridge Across the Ocean by @SusanMeissner

A Bridge Across the OceanA wonderful story...or stories, I should say. The Queen Mary is def going on my bucket list. The ship went from being a luxurious ocean liner to a troop carrier called the Gray Ghost to a war bride transport.... What a boat! The author touches on each with class and vivid detail. I was entranced.


The modern story follows a young woman with a gift she didn't want--the ability to see ghosts, hear them, be stalked by them at times. She buries this ability, treats it like a DISability for most of her life, but a friend from her past asks her for help and before she knows it, Brette is embroiled in a mystery from post-WWII. Did Annaleise jump or was she pushed? There's a war bride on the ship who isn't really a war bride. What's her story? Will we sympathize or...?

And it slowly unfolds in between chapters of the modern-day tale.

Each heroine is unique. There's no confusing any of the women in the past or the present. This makes the time changing easy to follow. Each woman has a tale to tell--except Phoebe. And that is my only complaint. Though mentioned throughout the tale and though she is actually just as important as Simone in a way, there's nothing about her before she became a war bride. Simone and Katrine, however, we get their entire backstories. And while I respect maybe Pheobe's wouldn't have been as interesting, that lack of her story made it too obvious she wasn't going to be a huge part of the mystery and that made the tale less suspenseful. It was like halfway through, I knew Pheobe was not going to be relevant. It took away some element of surprise.

I loved the writing, the history of the ship, the morals about both forgiveness and "If you don't ask or want to know, nobody is going to tell you or help you.."

I received an ARC on Amazon Vine.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stolen Beauty: Blog Tour Review and Giveaway


 I'm interested in art history, and there was a Klimt shaped hole in my art education.   The only thing I knew about Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was that he painted The Woman in Gold.   Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese takes the perspective of two real women.  One is Adele Bloch-Bauer, a prominent art patron.   The Woman in Gold is a portrait of her, but she also had an ongoing relationship with Klimt.   The other perspective is that of her niece, Maria Altmann, who eventually sued Austria to regain her family's ownership of The Woman in Gold.  There are a number of non-fiction accounts of this well-known case, but I love the immediacy of  skilfully written historical fiction.   So I joined the Stolen Beauty blog tour and received an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley.

                                     


Although I learned a great deal about Klimt from this book, I am going to focus on the women for Flying High Reviews.  I was more interested in Adele's narrative than Maria's.  Both were courageous women, but Adele was more complex.

I noted that Adele gave up on becoming an artist as a child because she wasn't being taught to draw human beings.   She didn't realize it, but this issue had held back woman artists for centuries.   Women weren't allowed to learn human anatomy because it would empower them sexually as well as artistically.  Society was invested in keeping women ignorant of men's bodies as well as their own.

I was also interested in the fact that Adele chose to marry a man who promised her freedom.   That was her priority in the selection of a husband--not love, attractiveness or wealth.   He certainly had wealth, but her own family was wealthy.   She was accustomed to always having whatever she needed, yet her strict mother made her feel very constrained.  She couldn't go where she pleased or follow her interests.   So she married for independence, and for the most part she got it.   She met artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals.  She founded her own salon to discuss the issues of the day.  She also founded an art museum and selected its collection.  The Woman in Gold made her prominent and admired.

Adele tried to instill the importance of independence in her niece, Maria.   Maria grew to adulthood in a world that was very different from Adele's.   Adele's influence turned out to be a significant source of strength that allowed Maria to survive WWII.

Adele's family was Jewish, but religion was largely irrelevant to her.  She grew up in a completely secular home.  Adele encountered anti-semitism, but it never impacted her life very much.   Maria, on the other hand, lived to see the rise of Nazi Germany and the invasion of Austria.    Her uncle's collection of Klimts disappeared when the Nazis looted the art of Jewish families. 

This brings me to Maria's litigation with Austria.  I admit that I originally wasn't sympathetic to Maria's point of view, and I found the case that her lawyer made troubling from a feminist perspective.  Yet I eventually came around to the argument that Austria shouldn't benefit from Nazi theft.

I was glad to learn about the woman behind the famous Klimt portrait.  It was also important for me to find out more about the Jews of Austria during WWII.  I found Stolen Beauty an enlightening and provocative historical novel.   

                                 
                                       Laurie Lico Albanese
                              Photo credit: Martha Hines Kolko
 
Blog Tour Wide Giveaway

Win a signed copy of STOLEN BEAUTY by Laurie Lico Albanese (3 total prizes)! The contest is open until February 14th.


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