Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad Ex Karma by Donna Cummings - humorous story

Over the weekend I read my first Donna Cummings book, Bad Ex Karma. I was engrossed with this book from page one. I really liked the authors writing style. It reminded me of several NYT authors I've read, such as Janet Evanovich.

The story starts with Delia in bed after bad sex with her 5 year boyfriend. When evening comes, she's expecting a proposal since it's their anniversary, instead she gets dumped. It's then the cycle starts. Any man who shows interest in her, winds up in the ER. However, when she meets Mr. Cilantro aka Jonathan, he seems to be immune to her curse.

This is a light-hearted story full of comical scenes between Delia and her friends as they play matchmaker. This is a romance and it's a clean one. Not sweaty scenes in this story, which was fine. Not all stories need to go into great detail in that department.

This won't be my last Donna Cummings book.

My Rating:

About The Book

The dating gods must be crazy.

I'd thought my five-year anniversary would include a fancy dinner, some great sex, and maybe fending off a marriage proposal. Instead, it was the worst sex ever, and at the restaurant, my boyfriend broke up with me.

It's like I've been cursed with Bad Ex Karma. Whenever I try to date a new guy, he ends up with a concussion or a trip to the ER.

My internal "disaster consultants", the What Ifs, completely missed the clues leading to the breakup, so now they're working overtime to protect me from another potential heartbreak. My two best friends set me up on dates while assuring me it won't put men on the endangered species list.

There's one man who seems completely immune to the curse: a sexy chef named Jonathan. He keeps popping up in my life, and he stirs up the most delicious feelings. Maybe Bad Ex Karma isn't such a bad thing after all. . .

Monday, June 29, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven: Bitter Irony in a Novel of Ethiopia

I really liked Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.  Black Dove, White Raven seemed like it would be unusual because Wein's young pilots grew into maturity in Ethiopia.  It was unusual all right.  It nearly ripped my heart out.

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 Rhoda Menotti and Delia Dupré were stunt pilots who performed together in the U.S. in the 1930's.  They had to perform for white only audiences because the venues were all segregated.   African-American Delia became involved with an Ethiopian pilot in Paris and gave birth to a son. She wanted her son to be raised in an environment where he wouldn't be considered inferior because of his race, and intended to take him to Ethiopia. Rhoda was offended by their segregated shows, but Delia insisted that they had to take any money they could get.  She wanted to earn enough to live in Ethiopia, so that her son could be free of American racism.

When Delia died in a tragic accident, Rhoda honored her friend's intentions for her son.  She went to live in Ethiopia with Delia's son, Teo and her own daughter, Emilia.  I admired and respected Rhoda for her loyalty to Delia's memory, and for treating Teo as part of her family.  Rhoda was a credit to her Quaker background. She used her piloting skills to help people in Ethiopia.   

 Ethiopia in the 1930's was no utopia.   There was a nightmare at the heart of Ethiopian society from which it had yet to awaken.  Teo was caught up in that nightmare.   He was trained to be a pilot and became quite accomplished.   When he was sixteen his life took a terrible turn that Delia would never have anticipated.  I wept for Teo. His mother wouldn't have even considered bringing Teo to Ethiopia  if it had occurred to her that such a thing could happen to him.

Rhoda's daughter Emilia also learned to fly as a teenager, but the drama of this book centered on Teo.  Emilia was better at navigation than at flying.  She didn't actually enjoy flying which I found disappointing.  Yet she was intelligent, resourceful and immensely loyal to Teo.

I was captured by the originality and intensity of Black Dove, White Raven  until Rhoda's husband, an Italian military pilot, did something that I considered unbelievable.  It was against military regulations and wasn't consistent with the love and concern with which he had previously treated his daughter, Emilia.  So it was both implausible and reprehensible.  The spell that Elizabeth Wein had woven was broken for me at that point.

For most of this book, I thought it was the best novel that I'd read in the first half of 2015, but the out of character behavior of Orsino Menotti, Rhoda's husband, was significant.  So I felt that I had to deduct one bike from my rating.


                                      
                                                              

Friday, June 26, 2015

Midnight Supper at the Rise and Shine by Tara Woolpy

Midight Supper at the Rise and Shine follows a family who owns a diner and we learn about the daily life of this complex family. This was my first book by the author. I really enjoyed her writing style and would read a book of hers again.

The story itself was good. I enjoyed learning about the different people in Irene's life. Many of the family interactions were comical and very much realistic when it comes to a family that is always together.

As far as the main character of the story (this is a first person story), I really wan't crazy about Irene. I had a hard time relating to her and many of the times the thoughts she had or things she said, I just felt were shallow.

Aside from not really liking the Irene (the main character), as I stated, I did enjoy the rest of the characters and would be interested in their stories in the future.

My Rating:

About the Book

Bad luck and worse choices—that’s Irene. She’s been a widow half her life and now splits her time between waitressing at the Rise and Shine café and singing in an oldies cover band. And she’s having an affair with a married man—something that even her eclectic, super liberal family can’t condone.

She’d be the first one to admit she has faults, but she’s not a bigot. The genetic pool in her nuclear family spans the globe. And it’s not that she’s prejudiced against people with disabilities but that doctors and wheelchairs give her the heebie-jeebies. So when a cute guy in a chair keeps showing up in the restaurant, she’s clumsy, awkward and strangely drawn. Can Irene let go of the past or is she too emotionally broken to find a future worth the risk?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry

I haven't read many of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries.  In fact, I've only read two since I joined Goodreads in 2008.   The Victorian period isn't my favorite.  Victorian ideas about respectability and class snobbery tend to annoy me.  Yet the first wave of modern feminism began during this period.  So I keep my eye out for Victorian titles that involve women speaking up for themselves.

 The Angel Court Affair attracted my attention because it deals with the disappearance of a woman preacher who was considered blasphemous. Since religion interests me,  I wanted to find out what she believed and why people thought it was blasphemy.

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Sofia Delacruz, the character who caused so much controversy, was an Englishwoman who escaped an arranged marriage and re-emerged in Spain as a religious leader with a small following.  Based on my research into the history of Christianity, it seemed to me that what she preached had some similarities to the Christian ideal of Imitatio Christi or Imitation of Christ.  In the medieval period this was known as the path of the saints because it was too demanding for ordinary people.  Sofia Delacruz firmly believed that everyone could follow that path.  Her most controversial statement was that God was once like us.  To me, this seemed to refer to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.  Jesus became flesh and lived a human life.  The Christian Gospels depict this human lifetime.  So I didn't find this particularly controversial myself, but perhaps Victorians didn't like to think of the implications of Christianity.  Proposing that God was once human, or that humans could become like God disrupted the rigid hierarchies that pervaded Victorian culture.  There were hierarchies of age, gender,class and race.  People weren't allowed to "get above themselves" and it was downright subversive to encourage people to dream of becoming more than they were.

The political world was also described as in a state of ferment in this novel.  The United States had recently declared war on Spain. The British authorities feared anarchism and foreign invasion.   Interestingly enough, there was a reference to an  alternate history short story first published in 1871  in which Germany conquered England called The Battle of Dorking  by George Chesney.  You can read it for free on Project Gutenberg Australia here .

 Yet what about the mystery?  The mystery case itself seemed rather familiar and even predictable.  This is part of the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, and I hoped that Charlotte would play a more active role.  Charlotte and the Pitts' teenage daughter, Jemima, did express their views about Sofia Delacruz. There is also a mention of Charlotte's secret participation in the women's suffrage movement which I appreciated, but most of the investigation was performed by men. 

I also noticed the double standard about extra-marital affairs which were routine for men, but scandalous for women.  The reputation of a woman could be destroyed by such an affair, but there were no repercussions for men.  This double standard continues  in contemporary society,  so it shouldn't be news to readers.  Yet I still found it infuriating. 

The Angel Court Affair isn't recommended for those readers who feel a sentimental nostalgia for Victorianism.  This is a sharply observed realistic view of Victorian society.  Anne Perry depicts it as a culture poised on the brink of change.  


                                          
                                             

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tidewater: Can There Be An Authentic Pocahontas Novel?

I am one of the many people who loves and cherishes the mythical Pocahontas.  In fact, I played Pocahontas in a Thanksgiving play in elementary school.  This was long before she became the subject of a Disney movie, by the way.  Disney didn't invent the legendary Pocahontas.  Disney didn't even popularize the story.  Pocahontas became a popular legend during her own lifetime.  She achieved celebrity status and was the darling of London society when she was barely out of her adolescence.

 It was Paula Gunn Allen's biography, Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat that caused me to re-examine the myth.  Allen was a Native American author who sought to revolutionize the way history is written. She wrote her biography in such a way that she could include speculation and imaginative re-creation of events in the manner of historical fiction.

This leads me to Tidewater by Libbie Hawker.  I think that if Hawker included a list of the roles that Pocahontas played in the title of her novel as Allen did, it would be rather different.  Perhaps her title would read Jester,Linguist,Political Adviser and Spy.  The only thing that Hawker and Allen would agree on is that Pocahontas was a spy.  It seems to me that every author who has written about Pocahontas has their own version of her.

How authentic is Hawker?  How much authenticity is possible when it comes to Pocahontas?  How much authenticity is desirable within the context of historical fiction?  These are questions that I will be tackling in this review. I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher via Net Galley.


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It's important to realize that we don't have any contemporary account of Pocahontas written by her.  It would have been theoretically possible for Pocahontas to have kept a diary after John Rolfe taught her to read and write in English, but I think she was too busy living her life to write about it.  The only contemporary account that we have is the one that catapulted her to the 17th century equivalent of superstar status.  It was authored by John Smith.    Keep in mind, that this was a man who made his living by writing self-aggrandizing memoirs.   He was neither the first nor the last writer whose career centered on inventing himself.  Can we believe anything that he wrote?  In her author's note, Hawker wrote that she found Smith sympathetic and selectively credible.   Unfortunately, it's difficult to decide what is truth and what has been concocted by the author to make him look good when there is only one source available.    It comes down to individual judgment and preference.  Both of these involve subjectivity.  This is how we can have different versions of Pocahontas that are all completely valid.  We don't really know the truth about her.

I believe that when you are writing any kind of fiction you need to tell a good story about characters who the readers will consider interesting and plausible.  When you are writing fiction about a historical personage, you are constrained by what can be definitely known.  We do know the birth and death dates of Pocahontas.  If Pocahontas was a child when she first encountered John Smith, as seems to be the case,  it is not plausible that she would have fallen in love with him.  This is why Libbie Hawker didn't give us a Pocahontas who was motivated by romantic feelings toward Smith even though it certainly does make a good story.

Is Hawker's Pocahontas interesting?  She is complex, but not always sympathetic.  I included political adviser in the list of Pocahontas' roles in this book even though she made some poor recommendations.  She was too young to have mature judgment and she was trying too hard to be influential.  Ambition was her most significant flaw.  As she grew older, she came to understand that  ambition had caused her to make some serious mistakes.  Unfortunately, this didn't stop her from making more of them.  She was blinded by her desire for recognition. 

Hawker believes that Pocahontas showed John Rolfe how to grow tobacco successfully in Virginia's climate.  If she married Rolfe for the sake of her people as she claimed in this novel, then that sort of assistance was another serious error. This was a colony that was established for profit. Pocahontas apparently wasn't aware that the colony hadn't produced anything that gave the Virginia Company any return on their investment.  If  John Rolfe hadn't successfully grown a profitable strain of tobacco, it's very possible that the colony would have been terminated and the Powhatan Confederacy might have ceased to have an English problem--for that generation at least.

Hawker provided a glossary of terms in the language of  Pocahontas' people, the Powhatans.This is one of the few novels that I've encountered in which terms that are in the glossary were hyper-linked within the text in the digital version.  This makes the glossary more useful in this format.  Looking for terms in the glossary using search is much more time consuming.  I wish that hyperlinks in the text were standard for all novels that have a glossary.

I think that Tidewater is a good novel that's well-plotted with memorable characters.  Though I do wish that Paula Gunn Allen had decided to write a novel about Pocahontas instead of her non-traditional biography.  Then we would have had two compelling fictional versions of Pocahontas that contravene the myth.

  

Across Great Divides by Monique Roy

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Publication Date: June 19, 2013
Formats: Ebook, Paperback
223 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

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01_Across Great DividesAcross Great Divides is a timeless story of the upheavals of war, the power of family, and the resiliency of human spirit. When Hitler came to power in 1933, one Jewish family refused to be destroyed and defied the Nazis only to come up against another struggle—confronting apartheid in South Africa.

Sixteen-year-old Eva and her twin sister, Inge, witness their lives in Berlin change before their eyes. Their best friend, Trudy, betrays them when she becomes a member of the Hitler Youth. A valuable family heirloom, a beautiful emerald and diamond pendant necklace, is confiscated by the Nazis as they continue to harass Jewish families and businesses.

Their younger brother, Max, a member of the underground resistance, sees even greater danger ahead. Their father, Oskar, a diamond merchant with a thriving business, refuses to leave his beloved Germany and believes Hitler will eventually fail. Their mother, Helene, the elegant matriarch of the family, holds her family together.

The family is conflicted whether they should leave home. But after the devastation of Kristallnacht in 1938, they finally flee Germany with the help of the underground resistance after hiding many diamonds. They seek refuge in Antwerp, but war follows them as Belgium is occupied by the Germans.

A young German man, a nun, a countess conspiring against the Nazis, and a winegrower secretly hiding Jewish children, help them to escape Europe. They hike over the Pyrenees Mountains while eluding German patrols and Spanish informers. Then, they spend agonizing days on a ship bound for Rio de Janeiro that is targeted by a German U-boat. As Rio’s diamond business is corrupt, they decide to go to South Africa, another diamond market.

In Cape Town, Eva encounters an impoverished colored woman, Zoe, who is in need of work. The family hires Zoe as their maid and shields her and her daughter, Zola, from the dangers they face in the slums of District Six and from the horrors of apartheid, which are all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

But, when Max gets into trouble with the South African police over his participation in an anti-apartheid march, will he be subject to imprisonment?

In a thrilling conclusion, the family comes to terms with the evils of society, both in their memories and current situation in South Africa.

Review

Discovering that this novel is based on the true experiences of the author's grandparents  enhanced my appreciation of the characters.  Such an inspiring story of survival needs to be preserved.  I received a free copy of this book via the blog tour in return for this honest review.

An incident involving the Belgian Resistance that occurred in Across Great Divides led me to discover a highly unusual event in the history of the Holocaust.   Thanks to an action of the Belgian Resistance, there was a mass escape of Jews from a train headed to Auschwitz.  Find out more at Attack on the Twentieth Convoy on Wikipedia.

A spotlight on a non-Jewish German character allowed us to see a glimpse of life in a Zulu village.  I had read a bit about Zulu culture in Mala Nunn's Emmanuel Cooper mystery series which takes place in 1950's South Africa, but I still know little about the traditional Zulu shamanic practitioners.  The information included in this book about their ceremonies was tantalizing.  Some further information can be found in the Wikipedia article Traditional Healers of South Africa .

I liked seeing Max's anti-apartheid activism, but I was far more impressed with Eva's kindness toward her African servant which was actually very courageous.  I was reminded of  the subversion against apartheid by the Indian South African characters in The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif which I reviewed on Book Babe here.  Powerless minorities in South Africa such as the Jews and Indians had less reason to maintain apartheid than the dominant Afrikaners.  For Jews who had fled Nazi Germany like the protagonists of Across Great Divides, the link between apartheid and Nazi ideology was painfully obvious.

Occasionally, I did notice that some crucial background was missing.  For example, one character seemed to have had unlikely success in South Africa considering what was mentioned about his background.  Then I realized how it could have happened.  This character probably had suffered discrimination in Germany and couldn't pursue his original career.  Reconstructing this missing struggle in my mind made so much more sense of the character and his choices.

I was also somewhat disappointed with the portion of this novel that took place in Brazil. Although my interest in Jews in South Africa was one of my motivations for choosing to review this book, I  also have a fascination with Brazilian history and culture. So I wished that there had been more detail about the family's temporary stay in Brazil.

Across Great Divides was a quick read, but it was full of impact.  It's very possible that any additional details would have attenuated the novel's thematic focus to some extent. Readers may be satisfied with what Monique Roy has given us.   It does make a strong statement against prejudice.

                                               



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Across Great Divides Available At


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About the Author

02_Monique RoyMonique loves writing that twitches her smiling muscles or transports her to another time or place. Her passion for writing began as a young girl while penning stories in a journal. Now she looks forward to deepening her passion by creating many unique stories that do nothing less than intrigue her readers.

Monique was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and her grandparents were European Jews who fled their home as Hitler rose to power. It's their story that inspired her to write Across Great Divides, her debut, historical fiction novel.

Monique holds a degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is also the author of a children's book Once Upon a Time in Venice. In her free time, she loves to travel, play tennis, pursue her passion for writing, and read historical fiction. In 2008, she was chosen by the American Jewish Committee's ACCESS program to travel to Berlin, Germany, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, to explore German and Israeli relations along with 20 other Jewish professionals from across the U.S.

Discover more at Monique Roy's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Across Great Divides Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, June 16
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Wednesday, June 17
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Friday, June 19
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Monday, June 22
Review at Room With Books

Tuesday, June 23
Review at Book Babe

Wednesday, June 24
Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, June 25
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, June 26
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rock With Wings by Anne Hillerman

I'm one of those people who continues to read a series that's been taken over by another writer after the death of the original author if I liked the series.  I sometimes think that the new writer is an improvement.

Anne Hillerman, the daughter of Tony Hillerman, is an improvement when she writes the perspective of Jim Chee's wife, Bernadette Manuelito.   Bernie, as everyone calls her, is a Navajo Tribal Police officer like her husband.  As a feminist,  I'm always hoping to see a woman officer being portrayed as the equal of male officers in police procedurals.  Most police procedurals have male protagonists. That's why I've been pleased by Anne Hillerman's primary focus on Bernie's perspective.

                                                   


                                                                                                            
One of the problems that I had with this book is that it seemed to me that Chief Largo was deliberately giving Bernie minor cases while Jim Chee got the high profile action.  I think that the Chief was trying to protect Bernie, but she ended up in a dangerous situation anyway and acquitted herself well.  So Anne Hillerman was really showing that Bernie could handle danger, but I was impatient with all the minor cases that got piled on Bernie.

I also disliked the fact that Anne Hillerman felt the need to pander to the popularity of zombies.  The case that Jim Chee was investigating involved all sorts of illegalities surrounding the making of a zombie movie in Monument Valley.

The associate producer of this movie philosophizes about horror movies saying that "When things go haywire, it's nice to have something to blame that's out of our control."  He thinks this explains the popularity of horror movies. I've always thought that the main appeal of horror is the demonizing of difference.  Horror makes it OK to hate beings who are different because in horror they're always monsters.    I'm absolutely not a fan of the genre. 

 So Anne Hillerman brings zombies into Navajo country.  Traditional Navajos would consider zombies a type of chindi.   Chindis are the spirits of the dead.  The traditional Navajo fear them, consider anything that has been touched or associated with the dead polluted, and avoid mentioning the names of any dead individuals.  In the Navajo religion, it's believed that mentioning the names of dead people summons their chindis.  I would have thought that there would have been some objection from traditional Navajos to the theme of the movie, but apparently the money that the film industry brings is too good to pass up.  When Chee discovers a grave in Monument Valley which would pollute it with  actual chindis (rather than fictional ones), that does become a matter of deep concern to Navajo authorities.

Bernie's most important case ,which started out with her pulling over a speeding motorist, turned out to deal with solar energy.  I'm not sure about the politics of this author on the subject of climate change, but this novel surrounds the solar industry and the use of solar power on the Navajo reservation with all sorts of negativity.  There are extremely unscrupulous individuals using coercion to get people signed up for the installation of solar panels on their property.  There are malfunctioning solar panels and a Navajo elder who objects to solar panels.  He is coming from the perspective of someone who has never had electricity in his home.  This character believes that part of hozho, which is the Navajo concept of harmony,  involves living in a natural way.  He gets up at dawn and goes to bed when it becomes dark. According to this outlook, people who incorporate artificial light in their lifestyle are living out of balance with nature.  It's an interesting viewpoint, but  in my opinion those of us who want to continue utilizing artificial light really need to find a clean renewable source of energy like solar.  I find it troubling that in Rock With Wings the only characters who talk about the benefits of solar energy should be indicted.

I'm interested in reading about opinions other than my own, but my idea of balance is that ideally all perspectives should be fairly represented in both fiction and real life.

Rock With Wings contains some moments of wonderful characterization and deals with one of my favorite American landscapes, but I'd rather not read about zombie movies. I'd also prefer to see a more even-handed presentation of the issue of solar energy.

                                               











Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Falling in love with a ghost who was also a serial killer? The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

I was intrigued right away when I came across this book. It was my first time reading the author. This book was actually the second book in the series, which I didn't know when I bought it and started to read. However, it read fine and I didn't feel like I needed book one. I will probably go back and read the first however to see how she got involved with the ghost, Micheal, in the first place.

This book follows Charlie as she is helping catch a serial killer titled The Gingerbread Man. He strikes just twice a year, capturing 3 people at a time, and allowing one to live...the one who chooses to kill the other to so that person can be free. He sets them in weird situations, such as in a well with water filling, etc. He also provides the murder weapon.

As I read this, I was of course trying to figure out who the killer was, but there is another story plot going along as well. Charlie starts with a ghost named Micheal and he was a convicted serial killer who was on death row and now follows her. Only she is beginning to think he was innocent and wants to prove it. She's falling for him and he is for her. His portal is closed and he has to stay within 50 feet of her all the time. The two have a lot of flirty banter and somehow Micheal figures out how to be an object so they get one heated night together.

Micheal and Charlie's connection made the story. That is the reason I will go back and read book 1, because I want to know how she came to be with this ghost. Then I can move onto the last book in the series.

I found the writing to be good. There were some parts that seemed to drag and little scenes I wasn't sure added much to the story, but over all, a good book and I will be reading more of this author.

Lacey's Rating

About The Book:
Dr. Charlotte “Charlie” Stone has dedicated her career as a psychiatrist to exploring the darkest territory of all: the hearts and minds of serial killers. It’s a job she’s uniquely suited for, thanks to the secret talent that gives her an uncanny edge—Charlie can see dead people, whose tormented spirits cry out to her for the justice only she can provide. This blessing—or curse—gives Charlie the power to hunt down and catch madmen and murderers. It’s also turned her love life upside down by drawing her into a hopelessly passionate relationship with the lingering ghost of charismatic bad boy Michael Garland.

But there’s little time for romance with her supernatural suitor when murder comes pounding at Charlie’s door in the form of a terrified young woman fleeing a homicidal maniac. Saving her life places Charlie squarely in the cross-hairs of a sadistic predator nicknamed “the Gingerbread Man,” notorious for manipulating his victims like pawns in a deadly chess game. And now the queen this psychopath’s bent on capturing is Charlie. Refusal to play will only put more innocent lives in danger. Matching wits with this cunningly twisted opponent will require all of Charlie’s training and expert skills. But even with her devilish “guardian angel”—not to mention her favorite flesh-and-blood Fed, Tony Bartoli—watching her beautiful back, the Gingerbread Man’s horrifying grin might be the last thing Charlie ever sees.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sapient: When A Scientist Takes Unbelievably Foolish Risks



I’m seeing in reviews that Sapient by Jerry Kaczmarowski has been shelved as a technological or medical thriller on Goodreads.  For me, it’s science fiction though it certainly has thriller elements.  I received this book from the author for free in return for this honest review.

                                             

My biggest problem with this novel is that the research project in the book was supposed to be a cure for autism, and it was never fully explained why autistic individuals  would benefit.   As the book opens, we are shown that the intelligence of some animal subjects was increased by the virus that was being utilized in the study.  Why should this impact autism?  I wonder what the author believes about this condition. Autism isn't mental retardation.  Based on my own reading,  autism seems to represent a spectrum of variant brain organization. While a great number of people with autism are very impaired, some of them have remarkable skills and capabilities that they wouldn't have if they weren't autistic.  Not all of those who are autistic would want to be cured.   I question the premise of this novel.  Would an autism research program, presumably helmed by experts on autism, authorize this research and consider it a likely cure?

Then there's the totally reckless protagonist.  Dr. Jane Dixon knew very well that her research needed to be tested extensively and that it would take years before it would be approved as safe for humans.  She also ought to have known that the reasons why it takes so long are not arbitrary rules.  She didn't even know the long-term effects of the virus on the rats who were her original test subjects.    Yet she made a series of  foolish decisions that were professionally inexcusable.  Yes, she had an autistic son, but it seems to me that her behavior would have been much more forgivable if she had been completely ignorant of the possible consequences.  Since she did have a background in scientific protocols, I considered her as irresponsible toward her child as she'd been with her research.

It seems to me that woman scientists have enough trouble being taken seriously in their profession without a woman in science being portrayed in a novel as clueless and untrustworthy.  This is why I thought  Dr. Beth Thomas from the CDC was a more sympathetic character.  I completely understood her perspective and thought she was shabbily treated within the narrative.  Dr. Thomas recognized the risks, was motivated by a desire to protect the public and was probably more qualified to do Jane Dixon's research.

Another very likeable character was Bear, the dog who had just been brought into the study as the novel opened.  Bear was loyal, trustworthy and ultimately heroic.  

The CDC wasn't the only American agency that was interested in what Jane Dixon was doing.  It turned out that the Pentagon was also interested.  Frankly,  I thought the intentions of the military for this project were quite horrific.  The author didn't explore the ethics of the Pentagon's intentions at all.  If I were the protagonist, I would have wanted to protect any future canine research subjects from the military's  plans for them.

The Pentagon's representative, Jim Rogers, was probably intended to be likeable.  He did have characteristics that made him seem appealing , but I thought that his ethical compass with regard to the treatment of animals was extremely off-kilter.

There is a romance sub-plot and a HEA ending for that romance.  The resolution for the research project, however, was very disturbing to me.  In the end, no one was considering the possibility that the virus could still mutate, and that there might be massively unforeseen consequences.   I don't even want to think about the potential dystopian chain of events that could develop.

I didn't hate Sapient, but I did think that there were some very sizable improbabilities involved in the concept, the plot and the characterization of the protagonist.  This book didn't work for me.

                                                       

 

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Just City: One Reviewer Who's Playing on Team Socrates

The odd thing is that like author Jo Walton, I read Plato when I was fifteen. My father had allowed me to read anything on his bookshelves.  So I read his leatherbound  edition of Plato's writings.  My reaction to Plato's Republic was quite different from Walton's.  Reading The Just City caused me to remember.  I was horrified by it. I didn't think that it could possibly be a utopia.  It was too regimented and undemocratic.  Yet Jo Walton says in the notes appended to the novel that she wanted to re-create it at the age of fifteen and that this was the origin of The Just City. 

When I discovered the existence of this novel , I had forgotten how I felt about Plato's Republic when I was fifteen. I was curious about what Jo Walton would do with her re-creation of  Plato's idea of utopia.  It did seem like an original concept.  


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What I liked most about the concept when I picked up the book is that the city was established by the Goddess Athena.  I thought that was immensely cool ! What I disliked about it is that Plato's Republic was being conflated with Atlantis which Plato wrote about in the Timaeus and Critias  dialogues.

  Plato described Atlantis as being a maritime power that was the rival of Athens which the Gods destroyed.   A civilization that rivaled Athens brings to mind the legend of Theseus.  The Minoans were so powerful that they could demand the youths of Athens as tribute.  Prince Theseus was sent as tribute to King Minos.  He was supposed to be sacrificed to the Minotaur at the heart of the Minoan labyrinth.  Many of us know how he survived the Minotaur with the help of the Minoan Princess Ariadne.

Another thing that is known about the Minoan civilization is that it was destroyed by a massive eruption of the volcano on the island of Santorini which was definitely occupied at the time.  The Minoans wrote in a script called Linear A which has no similarity to any known language.  It still hasn't been deciphered.  This leads scholars to the conclusion that the Minoans certainly weren't Greeks.   Later the script changed to Linear B which was discovered to be a form of Greek.  The islands that had once been ruled by the Minoans had been conquered by the Greeks, but that was a post-eruption development.   I am not the only one who believes that Plato was describing the Minoan Civilization.  There are numerous scholars who have identified Santorini as Atlantis. 

So as I started reading The Just City there was this niggling voice in my head, asking what Athena had done with the Minoans who would have inhabited the island where she had built her re-creation of Plato's Republic.  That voice never went away.  I kept wondering why those of the characters who had read the Timaeus and the Critias dialogues weren't bringing up the original inhabitants of the island.  Socrates was a character in the novel.  Wouldn't he have been asking what happened to them?

I did see references to Thessaly as the location in the novel.  So it occurred to me that the Goddess Athena had placed The Just City  on an uninhabited island in the Thessalian Sporades.   Yet I couldn't find an island in the Sporades with a volcano.  Walton's fictional island did come equipped with a volcano, and the plot required it to have one.  So a Sporades island didn't quite fit.  Walton really needed Santorini, the Minoan inhabited island whose shape changed radically around 1500 B.C.E. as a result of one of the worst eruptions in history. 

Why couldn't I just relax and go along for the ride?  Maybe it's because I'm like the ever questioning Socrates.  When I was a fifteen year old I just loved Socrates.  In fact, I wrote a play based on a few of Plato's dialogues called Socrates of Athens.  Like the Minoan civilization, this piece of juvenilia  no longer exists.

I did go along for the ride to some extent.  Walton created some wonderful female characters who were part of this Goddess given experiment.  The Goddess herself wasn't one of them.  I was delighted by several human women who were brought to the island from various eras.  These were women who were non-conformists within their own historical periods.  They longed for the equality that Plato promised women in his republic.  For their sake, I wished that I could believe that Athena's experiment would succeed. The Just City did initially seem like an improvement to these women who came to instruct the children, and identify the ones who could be potential philosophers.

Yet as their pupils grew, the instructors encountered heartbreaking dilemmas in their lives that were by no means utopian.   The responsibility for many of the problems could be laid at Plato's door.  They were inherent flaws in his concept of the republic that I noticed when I was fifteen.

I didn't expect to find the God Apollo sympathetic.  His track record with regard to women in the  myths about him was abominable.   Yet in this book, Apollo wants to understand why one of those legendary women in Apollo's myths decided to become a tree.  He eventually learns the answer and it results in a radical change in his outlook.  I also really liked Apollo's unwavering support for Socrates who uncovered a major fault line in Athena's re-creation of Plato's Republic for which Plato couldn't be blamed.

As I was approaching the end of the book, I thought to myself that I could lay aside my obsession with historical detail because the book was so well-written and dealt with the issues that arose in this attempt at utopia in a complex and thought provoking manner.    Unfortunately, the abrupt ending annoyed me so much that I nearly canceled my plans to read the sequel.  And I still want to know where that grey eyed Goddess of wisdom mislaid the Minoans.

                                       
                                      


Thursday, June 11, 2015

O'Brien's Desk (Historical Legal mystery #1) by Ona Russell

O'Brien's DeskI think this is a great idea for a series. A woman legal aid pre WWII solving cases. Think Law & Order but historical. However, I think I would have enjoyed this story better had it been a case of interest to me. A drug-addicted male judge doesn't interest me much.

I was more interested in Sarah herself. Fascinating woman but the book didn't get as deeply into detail about her and her past as I would have liked.

As for the writing style itself, it's good but at times contains too many info dumps, about the judge, his past, everyone else's history. I felt what could be an exciting story began to drag because of this. But I'm still eager to give books two and three a go. I figure they'll be more enjoyable because I will already know the characters, their histories, and perhaps they'll get more into the heroine herself.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this one.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Saying Goodbye To Warsaw by Michael Cargill

This is the second book that I've read by Michael Cargill.   My first was the anthology Shades of Grey which I reviewed on Goodreads hereSaying Goodbye To Warsaw was selected as the Book of the Month for June on the GR group Books, Blogs, Authors and More. I belong to this group and participate in it. It's a WWII novel that takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto, and I received it for free from the author in return for this honest review.

What I liked most about this book was Alenka, a character who appeared late in the novel.  She was spirited, resourceful and optimistic in a situation that left little room for optimism.  She played an important role in Cargill's version of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  I also found her believable unlike the nine year old protagonist, Abigail.

Another review said that Abigail became unbelievable only toward the end of the book during the uprising.  I disagree. I think she was always too good to be true.  She had no flaws other than being young and innocent which was too temporary in her horrifying environment to be a real flaw.  All the children in the Warsaw Ghetto had to grow up in a hurry.   Abigail became much more seriously unbelievable toward the end of the book.  She not only acquired skills too quickly, she was better at them than anyone else.  Credibility went out the window.

I should state at this point  that I took a course on the Holocaust from the Jewish Theological Seminary.  One of the books I read in that course was The Theory and Practice of Hell by Eugen Kogen who was a political prisoner in Buchenwald.  I am mentioning this so that readers are aware that I have also read books from the perspective of non-Jewish Holocaust victims.

Kogen's book shows that the Nazis were quite rigorous about separating non-Jewish prisoners from Jewish prisoners.  The Nuremberg Laws actually required them to make sure that Jews had no contact with other types of prisoners.  They were afraid of "race pollution".  Separation of Jews from non-Jews was also the main reason for their establishment of  Jewish ghettos like the one in Warsaw.  So they wouldn't have deliberately sent someone who was legally non-Jewish to a Jewish ghetto.  From the Jewish perspective, they did send quite a number of non-Jews to Jewish ghettos.  This is because the definition of who is a Jew according to Jewish law was more restrictive than the Nuremberg Laws.

I am bringing up this issue because there is a character in this book who was sent to the Warsaw Ghetto even though he was non-Jewish.  This may seem like a minor point to other readers.  He was portrayed very movingly and I liked the role he played in the novel, but it bothered me that the author didn't understand something very basic about the Nazi mindset.  

Cargill also mentions Israel a few times.  Israel didn't exist until 1948 which was after WWII.  There is a statement made by a character in this novel that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was partly funded by "our friends in Israel".  This is highly improbable.  At the time, Jews in America were sending funds to Palestine to help with the struggle of Jewish settlers against the British Mandate.   For more information see the article on the Jewish Insurgency in Palestine on Wikipedia.

I'm picky about the historical details discussed above because they matter to me.  They probably wouldn't even be noticed by many readers.  

From a storytelling perspective, I thought that Saying Goodbye To Warsaw was well-plotted and well-paced.  I also liked the final scene.   It affirms the centrality and sacredness of family.  In the end, family is what matters most.