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.   


                                  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Orphan's Tale: A Novel About the Sisterhood We Choose

The Orphan's TaleI didn't know what to expect when I picked up this novel. "The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff." First of all, I thought The Nightingale was just okay and I didn't like WfE at all, but except for one novel about two sisters, Pam Jenoff's novels have been winners for me. And that is somewhat funny. In The Winter Guest, Jenoff wrote of two biological sisters who didn't get along well. In this novel, we meet two women who are not sisters, who only know each other not even a year, yet are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. It's the sisterhood of choice...

And it was thoroughly engrossing. I loved it. I loved meeting two strong-minded women determined to fight the Nazis in what little ways they can. Astrid, a Jew, chooses to hide in plain sight, on the trapeze! Right in front of their faces.. That's sticking it to them! Noa fights back in a not-so-in-your-face-way by rescuing a Jewish baby. In a time of war and terror, each woman finds love and lets their formerly-hurt selves love again.

The circus was interesting too. It didn't go crazy with details. I didn't learn about elephants and tigers, or even about the freak show, but I did learn about flying acrobats, the traveling town to town, the way they pitched the big top. (I'd love to see that)

I enjoyed the friendship and bond the girls developed. Even though distrust reared its ugly head at times, they bonded and looked out for each other and the rest of the circus.

What I didn't like was the sudden romance with Luc. It came abruptly and too fast to be believable. I also didn't like that in the last quarter, it's like both girls lose their blooming minds. Noa loses her marbles over Luc and Astrid loses it over Peter. Astrid and Peter, I could understand, but screaming that you're a Jew and letting yourself be kicked where it matters...really? What the heck is wrong with you? All of a sudden, two intelligent girls both lost their minds.

But the fact I got mad enough at them to scream and nearly throw the book shows how deeply I cared and that's the sign of good, engaging writing.

If you're tired of the traditional WWII tales...do check this one out.

I got this via Amazon Vine.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Margaret Sanger: Champion of Women in Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Terrible Virtue"A woman's duty: To look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, to have an ideal, to speak and act in defiance of convention."

And that is what Margaret Sanger did. She looked everyone in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, and she spoken and acted in defiance of convention. Having watched her mother die older before her time, having raised 13 children, lost about 5, Margaret both loved and hated her mother. She loved her mother yet was disgusted with what her mother was, with what she let herself be: a broodmare...a baby incubator.

This novel is told in the first person, as though Margaret is looking back on her years and her life, her goals, trials, losses, loves. Personally, I loved it. First-person writing can make or break a book. In this case, it worked. The writing was engrossing; the memories were vivid. I never felt as though they were being narrated to me, but that I was living them myself.

I went with her from being called a devil's child and falling over her feet in the woods to her first marriage and the birth of her three children and the battles she fought inside herself between what she should want (what society told her she should want...a loving husband, a nice house, three adorable children) and what she really wanted (free love with whomever she pleased, a basic place in the middle of artists and socialists, and her main child: the birth control movement.

She takes on lovers and never hides who she is. She neglects her children for her one great passion. In her mind, it's better to deprive three than to let thousands of women and unwanted children everywhere suffer. And yet, she suffers herself later.

And was she a Nazi? No. We find later in the novel how that accusation came to pass and that it was a misunderstanding, a twisting of events, a misinterpretation.

I learned so much about this woman, this champion of all women. The only thing I didn't like about the novel was how vague it was about early contraception. Up until 65%, Margaret kept preaching the importance of family limitation yet didn't really offer a solution for it. This came later, after her Europe travels...but in the meantime, like all the women writing her desperate letters, I kept wondering, "What exactly are you wanting the women to do?? French letters are not affordable."

But eventually she got there, with her little possets, or womb veils. And she went to jail, albeit briefly, for her beliefs...and her sister was never the same, as she went to jail too and had a hunger strike.

But she got there...and as a result, ladies, we got there. Us modern women have the means as well the right to choose.

We can thank Margaret for that. I highly recommend reading this novel.

I purchased it via Amazon.



Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sometimes You Must Be Broken to Realize You're Lucky: Lucky Broken Girl by @ruthbehar

Lucky Broken GirlA very engrossing, thought-evoking read. Ruthie comes from Cuba (It's the 1960s). Her family has been chasing the dream of freedom for generations, starting with her grandparents, who fled Poland and Jewish persecution, only to have to flee Castro's reign. This little girl faces a troubling time. While most girls her age are going through puberty and deciding what to wear, Ruthie gets some hard life lessons from her bed, where she lies in a full-body cast for a year.

She learns what being smart is, sees the sacrifices her mother makes, develops patience, acceptance, and most of all, learns how to overcome fear...or well, better said, how to master it, as the fear doesn't really go away. You just push it aside and do.

As Ruthie says at one point in the story...you don't realize how many wonderful people you're surrounded by until something bad happens.

There is so much to learn and take away from this novel. My favorite lesson was about perspective. About how you just have to move your bed to face the window and see things differently. I'll remember this lesson always.

Terrific book, writing, story. It's not just about a family of Jewish Cuban immigrants; it's about acceptance, sacrifices, fears, and growing up. While Ruthie's body wasn't allowed to grow during her casting; her mind certainly did. We can learn a lot from her.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Footprints in the Forest-- A Novel of A Female WWII Partisan Based On Fact

I wrote in my review of Karolina's Twins on this blog that I was just about burned out on the Holocaust.  Now I can say the same about WWII in general.  I've read way too much about WWII this year.  I admit that I was reluctant to accept author Jeannette Katzir's review request for Footprints in the Forest.  I accepted a free copy because I've never read about a real woman who was a WWII partisan.  This is a novel, but it's based on the life of the author's mother.  I wanted to see if there were significant differences between the fictional WWII Resistance heroines I'd read about, and one that actually existed.

                                 


Like a number of popular books, Footprints in the Forest is a dual time frame novel.  It alternates WWII Poland with New York in the late 1940's.   I found the WWII chapters more interesting and compelling.  The American portions of the book were lighter in tone which some readers may consider a relief from reading about characters who are continually running for their lives.

In some ways, Chana the protagonist, reminded me of Jacqueline, the female French Resistance fighter in Marge Piercy's  Gone To Soldiers which I reviewed here.  They were both changed by their experiences, but I thought that Jacqueline became stronger and Chana emerged from WWII more fragile.   I understood why Chana  was so traumatized, but I preferred her fellow female partisan, Leeza who was more of a survivor type.   It was fortunate that Chana had Leeza's friendship because she certainly depended on Leeza for emotional support.  Chana also couldn't have survived without the steadiness of her brother, Isaac, who was always there for her.

Chana's developing art career in the U.S. was the aspect of the American narrative that I found most appealing.    I enjoyed reading about her creative process, how she learned to paint in oils and how her relationship with the gallery owner eventually evolved into a friendship.  On the other hand, I found Chana's stereotypical fantasy of the perfect wedding rather annoying.   It was also a very American idea of weddings, and it didn't seem likely to me that a Polish Jew from a religious background would have become so Americanized in her expectations that quickly.

 There were a few names that I thought were inappropriate like the Russian partisan whose first name was Barry and the Polish Jew who had a brother named Thomas.  There was also a Hebrew error.  Alov ha'shalom  (may he rest in peace) is correct if the dead individual is male.  If the dead individual is female, it should be aleha  ha'shalom.  Yet these are minor problems.

The background otherwise seemed authentic and well-developed.   I felt that I was there in the forest with Chana trying to survive Nazis, severe weather and other dangers.  This was a gripping portrayal of the life story of Katzir's mother.



                                   

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Other Einstein-- Blog Tour and Giveaway

I received my copy of The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict from Net Galley some time ago while I was still working on my master's degree.  Then I had to catch up on review commitments I'd made to authors and publishers.  While in the midst of this process, I was invited to join The Other Einstein blog tour and tour wide giveaway.  So now I'm wading into the really interesting controversy surrounding Einstein's first wife with this honest review.


                             


Mileva Marić wanted to be a physicist when she was young. She was admitted to Zurich Polytechnic to study physics and mathematics with two strikes against her.  The first was being a woman in a very male world.  The second was being from Serbia which was considered a cultural backwater in Western Europe.   I am citing facts at this point. There is a Wikipedia article dealing with Mileva .   If you want to see how much about that article is in dispute look at the Talk section.  There has been an editing war over this article.   Both sides are absolutely certain about things that can't be known with absolute certainty.

This is what is not in dispute.  Mileva met Einstein at Zurich Polytechnic where they were both students.  They fell in love and she became pregnant.  She had to drop out of school without finishing her degree, and they married.   This is a sad story, and it has happened to a great many women.  She never realized her dreams.

Historical fiction deals with what isn't part of the historical record.   How did Einstein treat his wife when they weren't in public?   Did Mileva contribute to Einstein's scientific work?   These are questions that are open to speculation.   No one can really claim to know the truth about them.  Marie Benedict has as much right to an opinion as anyone else.   She did the research and came to a conclusion that isn't at all palatable for supporters of Albert Einstein.  Some sources say that he was verbally abusive toward Mileva in public, and that he called her ugly.  Below is a public domain photo of Mileva that I found on Wikipedia.  You be the judge.

                                  


  It's said that Einstein burned out early because he never did any great work after he developed the theory of relativity and published it in 1905.   Could his estrangement from Mileva be the reason why he no longer produced any other brilliant new theory?  I don't know, but I'm willing to entertain the possibility.

Benedict's version of Mileva isn't a feminist icon.   She made choices that I wouldn't have made in her circumstances.   In fact, Marie Curie appears briefly in this novel.   This great woman scientist tells Mileva that the only differences between them are the choices they made and the men they married.   Madame Curie's husband dedicated his life to supporting her career.   Benedict portrays Einstein as having deliberately undermined Mileva.  I wanted  her Mileva to be stronger.

A number of reviewers believe that  Benedict's Mileva was a product of her historical environment and the dominant culture.   The truth is that the 21st century isn't that much kinder to women.   Any woman who becomes involved in a relationship with a man in the same field may still face the same problems.   She may be ignored and her work may go uncredited. Then like Benedict's Mileva, she may be shoved out of her field while her significant other or husband is lionized.  This is why this book has significance even if the real Mileva wasn't a scientific genius.   It could be a wake up call to young woman readers who may be on the verge of making a terrible mistake that could destroy their future careers.

For me, the value of The Other Einstein is learning of Mileva Marić's existence.  Whatever the truth might be about her, she deserves to be known rather than buried in obscurity.   Now anyone who has read this book can examine what is known about her, and make their own decisions about what they believe concerning the issues that Benedict has raised.

                            THE OTHER EINSTEIN TOUR WIDE
                                                GIVEAWAY 

This a Rafflecopter giveaway available to all blogs participating in the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, readers.