Monday, August 22, 2016

Troublesome Fun Suspense Abounds in Lady Kop Makes Trouble @Amy_Stewart

Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters, #2)"Last year I threw a man against a wall when he made me angry. I'd been trying not to do that anymore."

This is a terrific, fun historical mystery novel. I regret that I missed out on reading the first one. I'd had a digital ARC on a Kindle that was unfortunately stolen.

We have a really spunky heroine here, not without her flaws, as she does let a criminal get away. She's one of the New Jersey's first lady deputies--only there's a hold up with her actual badge. She's a jail matron when she's not chasing down sham German doctors in the subway station.

Her sisters are entertaining as well though not as prominent.

There's more than one case going on here--not just the escaped convict. There's a situation with a woman who shot her boarder. There's a look at life in the jail and different criminals' situations. There's a problem with the sheriff's wife and this shows us the attitudes at the time and how difficult it was for women to break career barriers.

Perhaps the thing I enjoyed second to the heroine herself and her determination is the secondary characters. They are memorable and each one is unique. The reporter in the ladies' hotel. The mother in her sick bed. The jailed woman afraid of her husband. Each has her own story showing something dealt with during this time.

Only a few things bothered me. Why was Rathbone paying for Von What'sHisFaces escape if Von owed him money? Seems like throwing good money after bad. And why did Constance show up for her reporter portrait attired as she was if she'd had time to go home and talk to her sisters? I'd think she'd have cleaned up while there.

But I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and plan to read the third installment. This is going on my list of favorite historical mystery series.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Book of Esther by Emily Barton: A Jewish Joan of Arc In An Alternate WWII

The best excuse for an alternate history is that it makes a good story.  There are two types of alternate histories that I enjoy.  One type is an improvement on history.   I really wish that history had gone the way the author describes in the novel.   Some alternate histories that I've come across are dystopias.   These are good stories if they provide a meaningful conflict with some insight into problems that we are wrestling with in our own timeline.   I've reviewed a number of alternate history dystopias recently on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer.  

The Book of Esther by Emily Barton is an alternate history of the first type.   It would be wonderful if history had gone this way.   Once upon a time there was a Jewish kingdom on the steppes bordering with Russia.  It was called Khazaria.  This kingdom actually existed, but in our universe it was overrun and destroyed during the medieval period.   Its inhabitants scattered throughout Eastern Europe.  Occasionally, you see Jews born with red hair.  They probably have Khazar genes, but the culture of the Khazars has vanished.  Now imagine that the Kingdom of the Khazars was still in existence during WWII and that Jewish refugees fled there.  I was intrigued by this concept and received a digital galley for free from Edelweiss.


The Germans are poised to invade Khazaria.  Esther, the protagonist, doesn't want to stand on the sidelines.  She wants to help save Khazaria from the Nazis. The problem is that the Khazars are Orthodox Jews who expect women to aspire only to marriage and motherhood.   She has an arranged engagement to a childhood friend.  She would be happy to marry him under normal circumstances, but the situation for Khazars is far from normal.  So Esther sets out for the legendary village of the Kabalists ,who are Jewish mystics and magicians.  She hopes to ask them  to change her into a man.   Nothing happens as Esther expects, but she does discover that she can play an important role in saving Khazaria.    This is definitely the sort of female central character that fans of this blog want to hear about.  

Since I am one of the ideal readers for The Book of Esther, I loved it.  It's obviously intended for readers who are very well-educated in Judaism.   Jewish customs and religious terminology aren't explained.   Neither is the structure of Khazar society.   So if you've read about the Khazars, as I have, you will also have a leg up in understanding who is who in this novel.   A glossary and recommended bibliography would have been very useful for many readers who have professed themselves mystified in their Goodreads reviews of this novel.  I'm not sure why Barton would have purposely narrowed her audience.

If you're inclined to research the books you read,  I think that Barton's book will reward you for this effort.   Esther is a courageous and intelligent heroine, and there is one rather surprising character that she encounters among the Kabalists. I highly recommend this book.