Sunday, December 31, 2017

Crossing The Horizon: First Female Transatlantic Flight Also Rans

Female aviators are one of the focuses of this blog.  So when I won a copy of Crossing The Horizon by Laurie Notaro from Goodreads, I knew that I'd be reviewing it for Flying High Reviews.  This novel deals with three women who wanted to be the first to fly across the Atlantic.   All three really existed. Two of them were female aviators. We know that Amelia Earhart is credited with having been the first woman to have accomplished this goal.  So why should readers invest their time in a book about women who were also rans?  Well, I was interested in the stories of the two women who could fly a plane. 

                         

As far as I'm concerned, the aviator protagonists were the only ones who counted.  They were British Elsie Mackay and American Ruth Elder.  I absolutely loved both of them. Elsie was a courageous rebel against the expectations of her aristocratic family.  Ruth was a pragmatic survivor who could have made a success at any career given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the third woman included weakened the book.  Not only couldn't she fly a plane, but pilots refused to work with her.   Frankly, I think that Crossing The Horizon viewpoint character Mabel Boll had a personality disorder, and that she didn't belong in this novel.  Wanting to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic isn't enough.  I might want to be the first woman to fly to Mars, but I have no space training or any skills relevant to such a mission.  So I wouldn't expect NASA to accomodate me.   At the time, flying across the Atlantic was just as dangerous as a flight to Mars would be now.  Mabel Boll was also surplus weight. An extra fuel tank would have been more valuable for an Atlantic flight than a passenger who couldn't pilot the plane in an emergency. Notaro thinks that Boll provided comic relief, but I found her an irritant.  I am not the only one who thinks so.  I've encountered other reviews from readers who could have done without Mabel Boll.

Although Amelia Earhart's 1928 transatlantic flight made Elsie Mackay's and Ruth Elder's 1927 attempts seem irrelevant, Notaro does point out in an interview that Earhart was a passenger on that flight.  Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932 was much more significant for the history of aviation.  Yet it seems to me that Elsie Mackay particularly ought to be honored for her flight because not only was she an actual pilot of the plane, her east-west transatlantic attempt was more challenging.  It wasn't until 1936 that Beryl Markham managed to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in the east-west direction.

I feel that it was important for me to learn about the existence of Elsie Mackay and Ruth Elder through the pages of Crossing The Horizon.  I'm glad that Laurie Notaro chose to remember them in her first historical novel.







                           

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Carina: A Roma Nova Novella


In her latest entry in the Roma Nova series, Alison Morton decided to set a novella between the events of the first two novels that I've already reviewed.  They are Inceptio and Perfiditas. Click on the titles to access the reviews.  I received Carina as a gift from the author via Book Funnel and this is my honest review.
                         
                               36644493
                              
Carina deals with Praetorian protagonist Carina Mitela taking on a mission that turns out to involve a rather large risk.  As always, the stalwart Carina did what had to be done.  It was a suspenseful narrative.  Since I'd already read Perfiditas, which takes place after these events, I knew that Carina would survive.  What I didn't know was whether there would be serious consequences for her actions.  I also didn't know how her superiors in the Praetorian Guards would react.  

My favorite scene in this novella made me a huge fan of Carina's  bond with her grandmother Aurelia.  Aurelia's experience allowed her to make a strong statement of support for Carina which I really appreciated.       

  I continue to be disappointed by the lack of significant Pagan religious content in a community founded by Pagan identified Romans who left Rome because the practice of their religion was outlawed.  In Carina there is a reference to a ritual that sounded like it might have played an important role in the lives of Roma Novans, but it's only briefly described not shown as part of the experience of the characters who attended.  I understand why it was given such short shrift.  Morton is very plot oriented, and this ritual was only incidental to the plot.

Yet I also had another area of disappointment. The fact that Carina took the central character to the independent Republic of Quebec intrigued me.   I hoped that I would learn about another corner of this alternate universe, but this book reveals relatively little about Quebec in Morton's continuity. Again, I understand why there are no long passages about the alternate Canadian milieu.  They would have constituted a digression which would be inappropriate in a fast paced thriller.   I just wanted to know more about Carina's world. 

On the other hand, I thought that the use of "Aquila" as a code recognition sign in communications was a very nice touch in Carina.  Aquila means eagle in Latin.  The eagle was the emblem of ancient Roman legions which had tremendous symbolic significance.   I found an article about it here.  So the utilization of "Aquila" reminds us of Roman military tradition and subtly reinforces Roma Nova's cultural context.

Carina performed the function of being a bridge between Inceptio and Perfiditas very well.  It filled in some blanks in Carina's life while giving us another exciting adventure.
                 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

I knew Jennifer Chiaverini as the quilt novel author.  She introduced me to the idea that quilts were signposts for the Underground Railroad in The Runaway Quilt which I loved.  I knew that she'd been writing biographical novels of female historical figures, but I didn't sit up and take notice until it was Ada Lovelace in Enchantress of Numbers.  I've always wanted to know more about her role in the development of the early precursors to computers.   So I requested an ARC from Net Galley and was delighted when I was approved by the publisher.   This is my review.

                                   34555334

Most discussions of Ada Lovelace begin by mentioning that she was Byron's daughter and that her parents scandalously separated.    What's really astonishing in the context of the period is that her mother got custody of Ada.   Children were considered property belonging to their fathers in 19th century England.  In this case, it came down to the fact that Ada's mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke known as Annabella to her friends, came from a wealthy family and Byron was debt-ridden.   Debt was a major motivation for his marriage.  So it seemed to me that Annabella's family was in a good position to buy justice for their daughter.  It's probably just as well because the only time Byron did have custody of a daughter, he relinquished his parenting responsibility by packing her off to a convent.

Based on Chiaverini's depiction, Annabella wouldn't receive any awards for parenting herself.  Yet she should be credited with making certain that Ada followed in her footsteps by pursuing mathematics.   This was an extraordinary education for a daughter of the aristocracy.  According to the article about her on Wikipedia, Annabella's parents hired a Cambridge professor as her tutor.
 If Ada hadn't had Annabella as her mother, it's unlikely that she would have been so advanced mathematically.

 In The Enchantress of Numbers, Ada's scientific mentor Mary Somerville told Ada about her conflict with her own parents over her studies.   It was widely believed at that time that women's health would be jeopardized by intellectual stimulation.  Mary Somerville's experiences caused Ada to appreciate her mother's encouragement of her scientific inclinations.  I had never heard of Mary Somerville before I read this book, and was glad of the opportunity to learn about this foremother for woman scientists.

We can't really know about Ada's contribution to Charles Babbage's conceptualization of his proto-computers the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine.  This is a topic that is fodder for  speculation for historical novelists like Chiaverini.  I made the same argument about Einstein and his first wife in my review of The Other Einstein here.  I feel that it's just as legitimate to claim that Ada made a significant contribution as to claim that she made none, and that it was all Babbage's idea.  I believe that Chiaverini is persuasive about what she attributes to Ada Lovelace.

Ada's written notes are clearly attributable to her, and they show her to be a woman ahead of her time.   The Enchantress of Numbers displays her context.  She had influences, and sources of support which do not lessen her achievements.   Isaac Newton is quoted as having said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of giants."  Jennifer Chiaverini helps us to identify who Ada might have stood on.   Yet every designer of a computer algorithm stands on Ada's shoulders because she created the very first such algorithm.




 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Avishi: The Warrior Queen With An Iron Leg-- Blog Tour and Review


                               
                                                 


 SUMMARY:



Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?


 Review

 I'd like to add a new warrior queen to my favorites list alongside Boudica and Zenobia.   Avishi fought for her people against an empire building tyrant.  She is remembered in the Rig Veda as Vishpala who fought with a leg made of metal in ancient India before recorded history.   Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer tells her story, and the story of  Satya, the extraordinary healer whose dream was to create an artificial leg that would allow amputees to continue the lives they had before the amputation.  I received a free copy of this novel from b00k r3vi3w tours in return for this review.

Avishi  celebrates a forgotten milestone for the disabled, but it's also a plotted narrative with characters who experience internal and external conflict.   Avishi and Satya have a romantic relationship that is complicated by the fact that marriage is a recent innovation in their society.   Marriage is associated with monarchy. Monarchy is represented in this novel by the invader, Khela who seeks to conquer the democratic settlement  of Ashtagani.  Ashtagani is the home of Avishi and Satya.

 So the institution of marriage becomes bound up in the political struggle.  In our contemporary context questioning the value of marriage is a radical idea, but for these protagonists the acceptance of marriage is a very fundamental change.   There was no agreement about the purpose of marriage, how marriage should work or who would be ideal partners in a marriage.

I loved Avishi and Satya, and was moved by their story.  I was also fascinated by the themes raised in Avishi.  For readers who are interested, there is a bibliography of the author's sources which includes resources on prosthetics, marriage and democracy in ancient India.  Saiswaroopa Iyer deserves recognition as an emerging talent, and as a thorough researcher.



About the Author:




Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. 


 
 






Sunday, September 17, 2017

Perfiditas: Defending The Matriarchy of Roma Nova

Perfiditas is the second book in Alison Morton's Roma Nova series.  I received it as a gift from the author through Book Funnel.  I recently reviewed the first of the series Inceptio here.  For more information about Morton's alternate universe read my review of Inceptio.  I do need to tell readers that the former Karen Brown is now Roma Novan Carina Mitela and an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF).

                           


It's the responsibility of the PGSF  to protect Roma Nova from all threats foreign or domestic.   In  Inceptio there was a foreign threat, but in Perfiditas there is an internal threat to the matriarchy.

In order to defeat this threat, PGSF really needs Carina's unorthodox tactics, but officers who think by the book dominate the hierarchy as is typical in military organizations.  This makes Carina a controversial figure similar to Captain Kirk of Star Trek.  Readers who identify with Carina may be outraged on her behalf.  They may think that her husband Conrad should be more supportive.

The plot is exciting.  It includes suspenseful sequences of events, and reversals of fortune.   It shows the fortitude of female Roma Novans from small girls to grandmothers. Perfiditas also displays the loyalty of most of the men of  Roma Nova to the matriarchy.
I was pleased that men in general didn't want to see the Imperatrix overthrown, and weren't interested in collaborating with misogynistic men.   During the alleged "Golden Age of Science Fiction" there were a number of matriarchal dystopias that appeared in which the men rose up against them.  So I find Perfiditas a refreshing turnabout of this classic formula.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mistress Suffragette

My readers here know that I love to read and review novels about suffragettes.  This year  I've reviewed a YA mystery dealing with suffragettes here and a novel about a suffragette in South Carolina hereMistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes is a debut romance taking place in America during the Gilded Age.

I rarely read or review romances. I like unusual books, and romances tend to run to formula. So when I got the request for this review, I had to take a look at what was being said about Mistress Suffragette on Goodreads.  It sounded like there would be more emphasis on the context than I would normally find in a historical romance.  This is why I accepted a review copy, and I am now posting an honest review.

                     


There is a repeating pattern for all three of the suffragette novels I've read this year.  It seemed to me that the protagonists aren't as strong or as interesting as supporting characters.  I always find this disappointing. In my review of In The Fullness of Time by Katherine Stillerman which is the second review linked above, I speculated that the authors may think their protagonists are more relatable.

  When we first meet Penelope Stanton, the protagonist of Mistress Suffragette,  she's sheltered, spoiled and somewhat shallow.   She makes the occasional witty remark, but frankly I found her thoroughly unsympathetic.   I told myself she would improve when she stopped being under her mother's thumb.  She did improve.  She began to be more thoughtful.   Yet throughout the novel, Penelope ends up being swayed by those who surround her.  Some of her worst decisions could only be explained by the proximity of a strong minded individual over-riding her judgment.  She seemed to lack self-determination.

I preferred Verdana, a feminist activist that Penelope encounters after she leaves home.  Verdana's focus is on women's clothing reform to increase mobility.  Verdana is bold within the context of her period.  I liked her self-acceptance and genuine desire to help other women.   For much of the book, Verdana's cause is more central than women's suffrage.  Yet I enjoyed Verdana's expansion of Penelope's consciousness by introducing ideas and experiences that were foreign to her.

Speaking of new experiences, I thought that the scene in which Penelope learns to use a gun and becomes an instant sharpshooter unrealistic.   If you've ever tried to handle a gun for the first time, you know that there's a kick that will be unexpected.  It tends to throw people off.  Diana Forbes should have consulted with someone who knows guns when she was writing that scene.

I  was also irritated by certain character name choices. Names like Daggers or Stalker sound like mustache twirling villains in staged melodramas from the period that Forbes was writing about.  Real people weren't likely to have names like those. I felt that they were heavy handed and predictable.  They would be more appropriate for a satire.

So although there were characters and moments in Mistress Suffragette that pleased me, the book definitely did have flaws.  Judging from reviews, some readers may overlook those issues.  I am hoping that Diane Forbes learned from the experience of writing this book and will produce better work in the future.
                              

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Inceptio-- What if Rome Was Ruled by Women?

Alison Morton tells us in her acknowledgements at the end of Inceptio  that she'd been wondering what the Roman Empire would have been like if it were a matriarchy since she was eleven years old.  That was the origin of the Roma Nova alternate historical thriller series.  Inceptio is the first volume in that series.

 Instead of going back to the beginnings of Rome for the divergence point of her alternate universe, Morton starts with the establishment of Roma Nova.  Morton's Roma Nova is a Roman colony beyond the borders of the Empire which was established during the reign of Theodosius in the 4th century C.E. which is very late in Roman history.   Roma Nova may be located in part of the territory that we call Switzerland in our universe.  There is also a mention of a nation called Helvetica which may be where the peoples of  our Switzerland reside. I'm not entirely certain.  If the author had provided a map, that would have settled the matter.

 The founders of Roma Nova left Rome when Theodosius outlawed all Pagan practices.  This and other background appears in the Introduction which avoids info dumps within the novel's text.  I applaud Morton's solution to this world building problem. 

I received Inceptio for free from the author through Instafreebie which doesn't require downloaders to review free books.  The premise sounded fascinating, but it took me a while to get to Inceptio due to review commitments.

                           


Inceptio takes place in the altered 21st century. Roma Nova is a place where Latin is the primary spoken language.  It's ruled by an Imperatrix and families are matrilineal.  Men marry into the families of their wives. We follow the story of a young woman whose mother was a Roma Novan. She was born in the alternate version of the US.  As the novel opens she is introduced to us as Karen Brown, but events rapidly change her sense of identity. I admired Karen for her adaptability, resourcefulness and courage.

The plot is appropriately fast paced for a thriller with a great deal of action.   Morton doesn't linger to provide very many cultural references or explanations.  There are Latin terms, but I found it easy to understand them from context.  Aside from the setting, the events could be taking place in our 21st century.   There may be variant power hierarchies, but I got the impression that this isn't really a world that's very different from our own.  Modern technology is ubiquitous and societal problems are similar.  I didn't feel that Roma Nova was either a utopia or a dystopia.   

My one disappointment with Inceptio is that I expected to see characters more involved in Roman Pagan customs and institutions.   The founders of Roma Nova apparently left Rome when they did because they valued the traditions and practices of Roman Paganism.  I hoped that there would be more extensive content related to Pagan rituals, and that there might be at least one character who was a priestess.   I wondered if Morton's Praetorians might be Mithrans like many of the ancient Roman soldiers in our world, but there were no mentions of Mithras or any practices associated with Mithraism in Inceptio.   There were also no references to other popular mystery cults of the ancient Roman world.  Perhaps Morton believes that Pagan religion would have largely faded away as a response to science and technology, but in our 21st century there is a significant population that are believers in some form of religion.   I wanted to meet Roma Novans who were equally committed to some of the spiritual paths of ancient Rome.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Inceptio and the evolution of its female protagonist into a strong and capable woman.   I expect to continue on her journey in the remainder of the series.