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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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Women Exhibit All Kinds of Remarkable Bravery in The Alice Network @KateQuinnAuthor

The Alice NetworkAmazing. Just when I thought I'd read every type of WWII story out there..and I think I can no longer be surprised, I am. This novel is riveting, thrilling, suspenseful, heartwarming, and funny! I fell in love with the characters, felt what they were feeling, cheered and cried with them.

There's a 1947 heroine who is struggling with death. She has lost her brother and her family, rather than banding together, seems to drift further apart and Charlie gets herself into a bit of trouble... At first she comes across as a tad spineless but as the novel unfolds, going back and forth between Charlie in 47 and Eve in 1915...we see two women grow backbones and experience life. There are different levels of bravery in this novel, each one just as important as the last.

Bravery isn't just spying in enemy territory. It's also facing demons from your past, loving after you've been hurt, standing up to those who wish to control you, laughing in the face of evil, finding joy in a time of war. We learn from Lili as well as Eve and Charlie.

Terrific novel. I enjoyed traveling the French countryside with these women as well as experiencing their harrowing adventures. I think this book is a wonderful way to honor the women spies of both wars.

I won an ARC of this on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ghost Talkers: A Novel Depicting A Secret Paranormal Aspect of WWI

My reviews on this blog dealing with Madame Presidentess  about Victoria Woodhull  and The Witch of Napoli  here , show my interest in spiritualist mediums.  This is why I wanted to read and review Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.   The premise is that during WWI the British secretly utilized mediums to pass on information from recently dead soldiers to military authorities.  This is an extraordinary concept.  So I thought it would make for a highly unusual novel.

                                     


 Ghost Talkers reflects the world wide predominance of women among spirit mediums.  This doesn't mean that it's impossible for men to be mediums.   There actually are male mediums shown in this novel, but mediums are usually women.  The reasons are largely based on cultural traditions and gender stereotypes.   Mediums must be receptive to spirits. That ability to be receptive is a strength in the context of mediumship, not a weakness.  Gifted men must overcome the idea that receptivity is unmasculine in order to accept that they are mediums. 

Kowal presents mediumship as a way for women to play an important role in the war.   It was not the only role that women played in WWI. We know that women were nurses, ambulance drivers and espionage agents.  There were also woman pilots in WWI.   See  Inspirational Women of World War IGhost Talkers does include nurses, and Kowal prominently mentions ambulance drivers in her historical note.

The women in the British medium corps are presented  as strong individuals.  It's mentioned that some were Afro-Caribbean immigrants.  One Afro-Caribbean medium was a named minor character. Yet the main protagonist was Ginger Stuyvesant, an American whose mother was English.  I ended up respecting Ginger for her courage.   Her romance with British Captain Ben Hadford is very central to the plot, and her last scene with him was very moving.

I give this book an A for originality.  It may be a candidate for my favorite read of 2017, but it's much too early in the year to know that for certain.  It would be wonderful if Mary Robinette Kowal wrote further about the women of the medium corps.