Saturday, February 6, 2016

Daughter of Destiny-- The Evolution of Guinevere From Mean Girl To Queen

Some would say that we don't need another Arthurian novel.  I'm not one of those people.  I believe that the Matter of Britain, which is what the Arthurian myths are called by those who are centrally concerned with them, needs to get retold in every generation.   I'm also still holding out for my ideal Arthurian novel.  The Mists of Avalon wasn't it.  I was more interested in Marion Zimmer Bradley's portrayal of the relationship between Arthur and Lancelot than any of the women.  More recently there was Gwenhwyfar  by Mercedes Lackey.   That version of Guinevere as a warrior was a good deal closer to my ideal than anything else I'd seen.   She was almost what I was looking for.   I could see why Arthur (who was a warrior king) would feel a common bond with that Guinevere and would be impressed with her.   She was strong and capable. She also despised courtly intrigue as much as I do.  Yet I wanted a Guinevere who could be a convincing and authentic priestess as well as a warrior.   I thought that Daughter of Destiny by Nicole Evalina would give me the Guinevere that I was looking for.  I received a free copy from the author in return for this honest review.

                                       


I was delighted that Guinevere was sent to Avalon to be trained as a priestess in this version.   Yet at eleven years old, she was clearly too young to appreciate the lessons she was learning or the importance of her psychic gift.  I can understand that she couldn't be an inspiring figure at that age, but I didn't expect her to manifest as the most hideous female adolescent trope in YA fiction.  This was a character limned with acid.  She was the Mean Girl incarnate-- obsessed with minor slights and plots of petty vengeance.   Instead of befriending the other priestesses in training, she was boiling over with envy of any girl who seemed to be powerful or favored by the senior priestesses.  Ugh!  I found her completely despicable.   She was the opposite of sympathetic for me.

Then tragedy struck and Guinevere seemed to be on the road toward maturation.  At a couple of points, I thought she was in danger of a Mean Girl relapse but that didn't seem to be happening.  It helped that she was faced with an adult version of the Mean Girl on a daily basis.  Guinevere definitely didn't aspire to be just like her. That's a good thing because the Queen of Britain should be building alliances rather than making new enemies.   Unfortunately, royal courts tend to be a seething cauldron of rivalries.   Can this Guinevere rise above all the spitefulness when she wears a crown?  I hope she can.   But the truth is that I didn't sign on for this sort of Guinevere.   I wanted her to be so much better than MZB's Guinevere in The Mists of Avalon, and so far I'm not certain she can measure up to my expectations.

I have to confess that I'm more interested in the future of  Isolde than I am in Guinevere.   She's no saint, but she's adventurous, resourceful and is generous towards those she considers friends.  I'm wondering about how someone as resilient and pragmatic as Isolde gets caught up in such a tragic story as the one she's credited with in Arthurian myth.  Well, since Evalina starts with the premise that Arthurian myth got it wrong, I'll be rooting for Isolde to overcome future adversity.


                                        

Monday, January 25, 2016

Soundless by Richelle Mead-- Are The Deaf Disabled?

Although I've never read this author before, when I read in the description that YA fantasy Soundless by Richelle Mead deals with a deaf community, I knew I had to read it.  I have an ongoing interest in deaf topics which is also a focus of Book Babe.  In addition, Fei is a strong female protagonist.  Those are the reasons why I am posting this review here.

                                   



For most of this book, I thought it was absolutely brilliant.   It showed the competence of deaf people in their occupations, and their determination in surviving under extremely difficult circumstances.     The vicious prejudice and exploitation that they face represent emotional disabilities of the non-deaf population.

Protagonist Fei is a painter.  In most social contexts art would be considered a luxury that people who are struggling to survive can't afford.   In this village, art is communication.   In a low tech society like this one, non-deaf people would have a town crier who would provide an oral account of important events.   Deaf people need their news in a visual medium.  Fei was one of the painters who was assigned to observe and record what was happening in the village.    She would then create a written account illustrated by paintings which would be displayed in the center of the village.  She learned to paint swiftly so that her people would have the news on a daily basis.  She was essentially taking the role of a journalist.  Like the best reporters she had the courage to take tremendous risks to find out the truth about what was being done to them by those who had power over them.

The end of this book seemed unworthy of the rest of the narrative.  It was a magical  deus ex machina ending.   I found this dictionary definition of deus ex machina  from Merriam Webster .  It's "a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, movie, etc., and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve."  I admit that there was some foreshadowing, so the ending didn't come out of nowhere, but it was still a letdown for me.  I wanted it to be as interesting and imaginative as the rest of the novel.   



                                   


Friday, January 22, 2016

The Maid of Heaven--Joan of Arc's Unusual Ally

When I saw a summary of The Maid of Heaven by Aidan James and Michelle Wright on the publisher's website, I was intrigued.  It's the third in the Judas Reflections series about an immortal Judas Iscariot.  I hadn't read any of the books by these authors about the immortal Judas before, but I was particularly interested in this one because it involves Joan of Arc, one of my favorite historical personages.

  I admit that I hadn't been reading books dealing with strong women suitable for review on Book Babe.  At last I have a  Book Babe novel.  I received a free copy of The Maid of Heaven  from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in return for this honest review.

                                       


First, I ought to say that Judas is the viewpoint character.  His name in the 15th century is Emmanuel Ortiz and he came to France expressly for the purpose of fighting for Joan of Arc's cause.   Joan of Arc had some unusual allies in real life such as Gilles de Rais who became known as Bluebeard, but certainly Judas Iscariot would stand out.  This is not a saintly Judas.  He enjoys his life for the most part.  This is why I commented in my book journal that if immortality was supposed to be a divine penance, it wasn't working.   He does experience angst at times, but it doesn't put a halt to his recreational activities.   He reminded me of the Immortal Duncan MacLeod from the Highlander television series.  Duncan MacLeod also lived with gusto, and was interested in fighting for great causes at one point in his life.

I liked the portrayal of Joan of Arc for the most part.  She is courageous and has tremendous fortitude.  When she was wounded with an arrow, she drew it out herself.  I have read of this stalwart Joan in many books.  Yet there were two anomalies in this portrait of Joan.

 According to the trial transcript, Joan had vowed to dress as a man.   In this novel, it's a pragmatic choice.  She dressed as a man in battle and when she was imprisoned in order to avoid rape.   Unfortunately, the trial transcripts reveal that she was raped a number of times while awaiting trial.   This is mentioned in the novel.  Judas is enraged when he learns of it.

The other anomaly is that in this book Joan was not a virgin before she was captured by the English.  Saints aren't supposed to be sexual, and most authors seem to have the attitude that Joan couldn't engage in consensual sex because it would weaken her.  I think this is a puritanical attitude.   The authors of The Maid of Heaven evidently don't believe this is true.  It humanizes Joan, but it doesn't make her less strong.  I was actually glad that the authors had made this choice, but it is a controversial one.  This Joan doesn't think of herself as a saint, and she mocked Judas when he suggested that she might one day be canonized.

I thought that The Maid of Heaven was unexpected and a compelling read.   I might be interested in following future adventures of the immortal Judas--especially if he encounters any other favorite female historical personages.    

                                

Monday, December 14, 2015

Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker: Blog Tour and Review

 Welcome to this stop on the TLC Book Tour for:

DAUGHTER OF SAND AND STONE by Libbie Hawker
Publication Date December 1, 2015.



Description from Amazon.com:

When Zenobia takes control of her own fate, will the gods punish her audacity?
Zenobia, the proud daughter of a Syrian sheikh, refuses to marry against her will. She won’t submit to a lifetime of subservience. When her father dies, she sets out on her own, pursuing the power she believes to be her birthright, dreaming of the Roman Empire’s downfall and her ascendance to the throne.
Defying her family, Zenobia arranges her own marriage to the most influential man in the city of Palmyra. But their union is anything but peaceful—his other wife begrudges the marriage and the birth of Zenobia’s son, and Zenobia finds herself ever more drawn to her guardsman, Zabdas. As war breaks out, she’s faced with terrible choices.
From the decadent halls of Rome to the golden sands of Egypt, Zenobia fights for power, for love, and for her son. But will her hubris draw the wrath of the gods? Will she learn a “woman’s place,” or can she finally stake her claim as Empress of the East?

                                                    REVIEW

I've been looking forward to this book ever since I read that Libbie Hawker was writing it.  This year I reviewed her Pocahontas novel on Book Babe here.  I found it interesting and absorbing.   Daughter of  Sand and Stone is a book dealing with Queen Zenobia of Palmyra.   She was a warrior queen and a rebel against the Romans like  another favorite of mine, Queen Boudica of the Iceni.  I lick my chops and salivate when I learn about historical fiction dealing with Zenobia.  I received a copy from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this honest review.

The first time I read a Zenobia novel I was disappointed.  It was The Rise of Zenobia by J. D. Smith.  I reviewed Smith's version on Book Babe here.  My biggest problem with it was that Zenobia wasn't the protagonist.  It was her general, Zabdas.   I felt distanced from Zenobia.  In Daughter of Sand and Stone, Zabdas plays an important role, but the main perspective is very definitely Zenobia's.

I feel that it's also important to mention the recent destruction of Palmyra by ISIS in the context of any current review of a book about Zenobia. Here is an article about it from the U.K. Guardian.  Zenobia loved her city and it means a great deal to modern day Syrians who are opposed to ISIS. Ancient Palmyra and Zenobia are essential parts of  our world heritage, but they particularly belong to the history of Syria.  It seems to me that anyone who participates in preserving the memory of ancient Palmyra and Zenobia is engaging in an act of defiance against those who seek to destroy them.  That's what Daughter of Sand and Stone means to me.  It's an act of defiance.

Like Libbie Hawker's Pocahontas, her Zenobia is ambitious.   In the case of Pocahontas, it's definitely a flaw due to lack of maturity.  She simply craves attention and her ambitions are comparatively small scale.  On the other hand, Hawker's Zenobia wants an empire and to reign as Queen in Egypt like her maternal ancestor, Cleopatra.  She is continually told  by members of her family and later by a Roman Emperor that she is  going beyond the bounds of women's sphere.  I think this is a strength.   We need women like Zenobia.  She had courage, vision and intelligence.  She deserved to succeed.

Hawker extrapolates from Roman primary sources for the ending of her novel. In Hawker's very detailed Author's Note she says that a number of writers on Zenobia don't believe the official Roman version and I confess that I don't either.  Within the context of the book, it was anti-climactic.  So in addition to my feelings that it was out of character and not a fit ending for Zenobia, it wasn't a good ending from a dramatic perspective.

Yet up until that ending, I was cheering on Zenobia and feeling so delighted that we got a modern novel about the Warrior Queen of Palmyra in which she lives and breathes.  It may not be the ideal Zenobia novel, but it perpetuates her legacy at a time when I think it's particularly important to do so.

                                  ***************
Links for more information about Daughter of Sand and Stone



Author's website: http://libbiehawker.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/libbie.hawker?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

 

Libbie Hawker’s TLC Book Tours TOUR 

STOPS:

Monday, November 30th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, December 1st: Bibliotica
Tuesday, December 1st: Life is Story
Wednesday, December 2nd: Reading Reality
Thursday, December 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, December 4th: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord
Monday, December 7th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, December 8th: Spiced Latte Reads
Wednesday, December 9th: Book Dilettante
Thursday, December 10th: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, December 11th: Book Nerd
Monday, December 14th: Book Babe
Tuesday, December 15th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, December 16th: The Reader’s Hollow
Thursday, December 17th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Monday, December 21st: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, December 22nd: The Lit Bitch
Friday, December 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, December 29th: I’m Shelfish
Tuesday, December 29th: Time 2 Read
Wednesday, December 30th: Broken Teepee


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

December has been busy, and I haven't been reading fiction with strong female protagonists lately.   I debated with myself over whether a review of Playing With Fire, Tess Gerritsen's recent standalone thriller, belongs on this blog.   This is a dual time period book, and it was the historical female protagonist that caused me to decide in favor of posting about this book on Book Babe.

                                 



Violinist Julia Ansdell, the contemporary central character,  tried to be strong but she was more often a victim who needed to be rescued.  Her life was beyond her control, and her judgment was very badly compromised for reasons that became clear by the end of the book.   Because she didn't understand what was going on, she didn't know who to trust and fought the wrong battles.  I was glad when Julia's situation was finally resolved, but she wasn't our Book Babe heroine.

I found her in the historical narrative which took place in Venice, Italy during the 1930's and 1940's.   Julia had found the manuscript of a mysterious unpublished piece of music called Incendio by L. Tedesco.  He is violinist/composer Lorenzo Tedesco, the viewpoint character of this story line.  The Tedescos were a Jewish family and this was Fascist Italy which became occupied by their ally, Nazi Germany. Lorenzo might have been forgotten despite his brilliance if it were not for a brave young cellist named Laura Balbini.   Laura had been seriously burned in an accident, but it didn't damage her confidence even though it marred her beauty.   When she wanted to enter a musical contest, she dared to rehearse a duet with Lorenzo even though Jews were viewed with extreme prejudice.  She also had the courage to care about him and I believe it was she who motivated her father to try to help the Tedescos.   I know that she persuaded her father to shelter Jews who were strangers under conditions of tremendous danger.   She said to her father, "What if it was Lorenzo?"   At the end of her historical notes, Gerritsen tells us "In the darkest of times, there will always be a Laura to light the way."  Laura's story is linked more directly to Julia's because she also played an important role in the composition of Incendio.

Laura and Lorenzo are fictional characters, but  they had real life parallels.  There were many real Italians who saved Jews at the risk of their lives.  There were also real Jewish musicians like Lorenzo during this period.

Some of you may remember another novel that took place in Fascist Italy dealing with another courageous woman cellist who worked for the Italian Resistance, and utilized a very unusual means of passing on secret messages.  It was The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman which I reviewed on Book Babe here.  This shows that woman heroes may be uncommon, but not unique.

 2015 was the year that I uncovered the role of Italian woman musicians in opposing the Nazis in novels by Alyson Richman and Tess Gerritsen.  In 2016 I anticipate discovering other great woman heroes in historical fiction, and I will be sure to share these discoveries with you on Book Babe.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Point of Honour--A Swordswoman Solves A Mystery in an Alternate Regency Novel

I'd been meaning to read the Sarah Tolerance mysteries written by Madeleine E. Robins for some time.  It was a Goodreads recommendation that caused me to finally start Point of Honour, the first in the Sarah Tolerance mysteries.  It was an obvious choice for me since it was about a woman who knew how to use a sword.  I can't resist books about swordswomen.   I began reading it on Thanksgiving as a holiday treat that I knew I would enjoy.

                                   

Sarah loved swordplay as much as I do.  She was a daughter of English nobility and wasn't supposed to learn how to use a sword, but  she fell in love with her brother's fencing instructor and ran away with him.   They lived together for many years in exile from England, and he taught her everything he knew.  All of this happened before the book started, so these aren't spoilers.   This is Sarah's background.    Her family had disowned her.  This meant that when she returned to England after the death of her lover, she had to figure out how to make her own way in life.

In the context of Regency England, she was a "fallen woman" and would have been expected to join what is often called "the world's oldest profession".   So she created her own alternative, and Madeleine Robins created an alternate continuity  in which a woman like Sarah Tolerance could exist.

A GR friend that I respect very much complained about the way Regency England had been altered in her review of this novel.  I found that I disagreed with her.   I think that if an author is ignorant about the historical period in which the novel takes place and makes errors due to lack of research, that's inexcusable.  Yet when an author deliberately creates a different continuity and discusses it in an Author's Note, that's alternate history which is a sub-genre that I enjoy.

The main difference between this Regency England and the one we know is that the Regent is the Queen, the wife of the mad King George III.   There are other small changes that make the social landscape a bit more friendly to an independent woman.   One example is that she can join a gentleman's club that accepts women so long as they can afford to pay the membership fee.   This doesn't mean that Sarah doesn't encounter prejudice.   She is insulted and disrespected nearly every day, but she manages to maintain her self-respect.

Sarah invented a profession that didn't exist in 1810 when the events of Point of Honour take place. She called herself an investigative agent.  In our contemporary world we call them private investigators or detectives.  In our world, Eugène-François Vidocq became the first private detective in 1833.  For more information about Vidocq see the Wikipedia article about him.

The case that Sarah is hired to investigate in this first novel doesn't sound very interesting.  She is expected to find a fancy jeweled fan that an Earl had in the past given to his mistress. The case turns out to be far more complicated and dangerous than Sarah had ever imagined.  There are a number of swordfighting scenes for readers who are swordplay fans.   

Sarah Tolerance is a wonderful character.  Her skills, her loyalties and her principles are all tested in this book, but she is spirited, resilient and always a woman of integrity in a world where a woman who has lost her virginity is believed to have no honour.

Even though there are only two more books to read in the Sarah Tolerance series,  I think that this protagonist is going to be a new favorite of mine.   Perhaps in the later installments, she will become more respected and recognized.
     
 
                                          


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Paris Protection: A Thriller About A Female U.S. President Under Threat in Paris



This is a time when a thriller about very well organized terrorists trying to assassinate the President of the United States in Paris is particularly chilling because it seems all too real.   In addition, this threatened President is a woman at a time when the leading Democratic candidate in the Presidential race is also a woman.  Given the current circumstances, some readers may find this hard to take. 

                                      


The Paris Protection is filled with nearly non-stop suspense.   The survival of the U.S. President remains in doubt until very close to the end of the novel.   There’s a great deal of violence with a high body count. In the book, much was made of the fact that the struggle between assassins and the Secret Service is usually brief.  At one point it occurred to me that if a different decision had been made at the beginning of the crisis, it could have been terminated quickly with less loss of life.  It did seem to me that the plot was more than a bit contrived.  Devore manipulated it to prolong the President’s danger for the length of an entire novel.  Yet it was compelling.   Most thriller fans will probably consider The Paris Protection a gripping narrative. 

I very much liked some of the characters. The author focuses on a few Secret Service agents who were courageous, determined and resourceful.  Rebecca Reid is the most central character in these events.   I appreciate the fact that Devore portrayed a female Secret Service agent as being so good at coming up with fast solutions at the moments when they were most needed.

I was also pleased that brave Parisians also had their moment in the storyline.  I’d like to believe with author Devore that the spirit of Paris remains strong in the face of terrorism.   This is an inspiring element in The Paris Protection.  The sequence that takes place on the street in Paris is a powerful one.

On the other hand, I find the motives of the chief villain rather byzantine.   Why does he hate his own country as much as he does? It didn’t seem to me that his experiences explained his feelings.   If anything, I would have thought that he’d be very guilt ridden.   I realize that some sociopaths are incapable of guilt, but there has to be a missing flashback locked inside his labyrinthine mind that would have made this terrorist leader more understandable to me. 

So this book has pros and cons.  Good copy editing was one of the positive points.  This is one of the few books I’ve read lately with no typographical errors.    On the whole, I thought that the positive outweighed the negative.  The Paris Protection is a novel that’s worth reading.