Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Julius Romeros Extravaganza #3--Charming Book With A Middle Grade Vibe

I absolutely loved the original approach of The Julius Romeros Extravaganza #1 by Hayley Lawson- Smith.   It introduces the protagonist Abigail, a bearded girl who is sold to a circus by a disapproving servant in 19th century Australia.   I reviewed this book at my former blog The Unmasked Persona here. The second book was  different in tone.  It was a very dark story about the abuse of circus freaks.  My review of that book was the last one I wrote for The Unmasked Persona. You can find that review here.  Like the earlier books in this series,  I received this book from Hayley Lawson- Smith in return for an honest review.

                                                 




Each volume in this series has had a different tone.  This one seemed to be too gentle to be considered satire like the first book. I thought that it was an adventure novel with occasional charmingly absurd events of the sort that I  have seen in books intended for middle grade children.  Yet I'm an adult and I admit that I was entertained.  Maybe this book is for people of all ages who enjoy reading about unlikely dreams coming true.

In this book Abigail and other members of the Extravaganza troupe, find their happily ever afters.  Readers may find this heartwarming.  Others, like me, may be somewhat disappointed that the adventure is over and the trilogy is complete.

 Yet maybe at some point in the future Abigail may have restless feet and want to resume her wandering.  It's also possible that some of her circus companions may want to join her, or that she may find new ones.   When you consider how strangely things sorted themselves out in the end, I would have to say that anything might happen.  You just never know.

                                                   

                                                     

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Thrill Me by Susan Mallery @SusanMallery

Sometimes the one we let go is meant to be our true love. That's the case in Thrill Me, a second chance love story. Maya and Del were high school sweethearts until Maya dumped him because she didn't want to become like her mother. She didn't want to be young and have kids, instead she wanted to live life and find success, and they way she felt about Del, that would never happen. So she broke up with him.

Years later, she's back in Fool's Gold and so is Del, and since they both work in TV, they've been thrown together. The two of them admit to being attracted to one another, but of course the past creeps in, stopping them in their tracks.

I enjoyed the flirty banter in this book and a lot of the towns characters. Reading as Del and Maya found love again was fun. I'm more of a novella reader, so this one did seem to drag in a few places for me, but I pushed through and I'm glad I did. I had several moments I laughed because the Mayor of the town is a funny lady.

Susan Mallery isn't a new author on the block and I enjoyed her writing style.

If you're looking for a second chance love story, consider Thrill Me by Susan Mallery.

My Rating:

About the Book:

Meet the Mitchell brothers of Fool's Gold, California—five gorgeous men who've left a trail of broken hearts in their wake…

Maya Farlow learned the hard way to depend only on herself, so when she fell too deeply for the bad-boy charms of Del Mitchell, she did the only thing she could—she ran. Stunned, Del left Fool's Gold to make his name and fortune in extreme sports.

Now ten years later, Maya's been hired to promote her hometown's new slogan, The Destination for Romance. The celebrity spokesman is none other than Del, the man she dumped but never forgot. Awkward!

Although Del's not the type to hold a grudge, he's determined to avoid falling a second time for the woman who broke his heart. He's a daredevil, not an idiot. Trouble is, in all his adventures, he never found a rush as exhilarating as Maya's kiss. Maybe risking his heart will prove to be the biggest thrill of all…

Monday, August 3, 2015

Queen of the Night by J. A. Jance

Anna Faktorovich's academic study on mysteries and romances which I reviewed here, led me to try the mystery author J.A. Jance, who I'd never read before.  I was intrigued with what Faktorovich wrote about this author in her study.  So I took a look at descriptions on Goodreads of the books she'd written,  and decided that I'd probably enjoy reading this one.  It's a crime thriller rather than a mystery.  Readers won't need to see the major serial killer case solved.  The suspense lies in how the perpetrator's crime spree will finally be stopped. 

Queen of the Night is actually #4 in a series, but reading out of order never dismays me.  I believe that books ought to stand on their own.  If they don't, it's not my responsibility to remedy the situation by reading other books.  I will only read more books by the author if  I am hooked by the first one I tried.  That's why I'm so careful about my choice of first read by an author.  The Queen of the Night has a story line that deals with the legends and customs of the Tohono O'odham of Arizona.  I tend to like mysteries and thrillers that involve Native American background.  I definitely knew that I'd come to the right place when I saw that Jance had dedicated the book to Tony Hillerman.

                                             

The book opens with a really wonderful Tohono O'odham legend that is both feminist and anti-war about how the night blooming cereus flower came to be.   The annual blooming of this flower is a pivotal event in the plot.  I also loved discovering the concept of  "ghost scent".  This means that the scent of the night blooming cereus reminds the Tohono O'odham  of its story.

Yet it was a quote from Psalms that kept on running through my head when I thought about the stories of a number of the characters in this book.  I heard it  sung in Hebrew in my mind, but the best English version of the quote is:  "The stone that was rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." (Psalms 118:22) Over and over Jance shows that people who are despised triumph.  I'm fond of underdogs, so this is very heartwarming to me.  The backgrounds of Dr. Lani Walker and Dan Pardee are the most compelling examples.

I do feel that Jance reached deep for the full humanity of all the prominent characters including the serial killer.  I don't mean that they were all sympathetic, but I understood where they were coming from.  We saw the heart of some of the relationships depicted in this novel.  The relationship between Diana Ladd and Brandon Walker was particularly moving.

This was a strong book that also taught me a bit about the Tohono O'odham.  I will definitely want to read another book in this series soon.                                              
                                                     


Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Reading Radar 8/1/2015 @katekerrigan @natmegevans

What's the Reading Radar? It's just a list of books that caught my interest in the last week, why they caught my interest, and HOW. Having been an author myself once upon a time, I was always curious about how to reach readers. I type this up every week to share with readers books they may be interested as well and to let the authors know how they're being "discovered".

I spotted all the titles this week on Netgalley.

The Milliner's Secret

The Milliner's Secret by Natalie Meg Evans. I love millinery. Wish it hadn't gone out of style here in the States. And oh, WWII. 'Nuff said.


London,1937. A talented young woman travels to Paris with a stranger. The promise of an exciting career as a milliner beckons, but she is about to fall in love with the enemy...

Londoner Cora Masson has reinvented herself as Coralie de Lirac, fabricating an aristocratic background to launch herself as a fashionable milliner. When the Nazis invade, the influence of a high-ranking lover, Dietrich, saves her business. But while Coralie retains her position as designer to a style-hungry elite, Paris is approaching its darkest hour.

Faced with the cruel reality of war and love, Coralie must make a difficult choice—protect herself or find the courage to fight for her friends, her freedom and everything she believes in.


***


The Dress by Kate Kerrigan caught my interest because I LOVE vintage dresses. I'm intrigued by the idea of a scandal/story around a fifties dress.


The DressLily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes - made all the more precious because they were once owned and loved by another woman. Thousands follow her vintage fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. But this passion for the beautiful clothes of the past is about to have unforeseen consequences, when Lily stumbles upon the story of a 1950s New York beauty, who was not only everything Lily longs to be, but also shares Lily's surname.

Joy Fitzpatrick was a legend. But what was the famous dress which she once commissioned - said to be so original that nothing in couture would ever match it again? What happened to it - and why did Joy suddenly disappear from New York high society?

Kate Kerrigan's enthralling novel interweaves the dramatic story of Joy, the beautiful but tortured socialite and that of Lily - determined to uncover the truth and, if possible, bring back to life the legendary dress itself.
 

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Crimson Field: Nurses Bring Scandal & Smarts to the Battlefront

It's WWI. Yea, I seem to be on a nurses in WWI kick. (I've been watching Anzac Girls too, more about that later.) A group of British nurses are treating the wounded on the front (France). We not only get to know them, but also the surgeons they work closely with, and with this group comes lots of secrets and tensions. A six-hour series, it comes on two DVDs.

There's the matron, with a soft heart for her patients, but not so much at times for her volunteers. There's a huge debate over how much the volunteers should be allowed to do. There's a secret engagement, secret babies, possible love affairs. Resentment, jealousy, fear. Each episode brings up something new to think about: the trials of nursing, how very difficult it can be for a young lady in those times to see a man's body. Cowardice. Should they be shot? Not every man is cut out for war...yet should they shot for their weakness?


There's Irish/British tensions, and even more fascinating to me was the experimental procedures the surgeons perform. I'm not a medical expert, but though brief, the side story involving a wounded patient being put through a painful routine every two hours rather than losing his leg was intriguing.

While the first episode was slow and I had my doubts the series would improve, by the third episode, I was hooked. I became engrossed in everyone's lives and scandals. I found myself shouting at people, especially the wife who tells her husband she doesn't want to hear his war stories. What a shocker of an episode. I dare not say what happens, but I will say it raised a lot of emotion in me.

The secret engagement turned into a shocker of epic proportions bringing the issues of treason. Right man, wrong time... I was happy with the way this resolved. It was realistic and yet could have been worse. I must say though, I am not pleased with one sidestory's resolution...Kitty. Fascinating woman with hints of a scandalous past...but yet we never get the full story. I wanted the full story there and I didn't care for her love interest. I'd have chosen the other guy.

I bought this DVD set on Amazon.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hecate's Moon by Carol Ann Dobson

The title of this book intrigued me.  I knew it was a historical romance.  I have read and reviewed a few of them.  So I accepted a free copy of Hecate's Moon from the author in return for this honest review.

                                                         

I had really hoped for some lore about Hecate, but there isn't much content about this Goddess in Hecate's Moon.  The herbalist/healer/midwife Esther Cerfbeer struck me as a more authentic Hecate priestess than Mrs. McAlpine who didn't appear to have a clue about her nature. Based on my knowledge of Greek mythology, the sort of rituals that Mrs. McAlpine performed seemed like they should be devoted to Dionysus or Aphrodite Pandemos.

When the hero Armand arrived in the town of Ilfracombe after fleeing revolutionary France to take up residence at his family's Devon estate he found missing girls, witchcraft hysteria, smuggling and shipwrecks.  He also discovered that his house had been named after his estate manager, and mysteriously never even objected to that.  I intellectually understood why he was obsessed with returning to France to fight in the royalist cause, but I didn't think it made him sympathetic.    It wasn't just that it was a lost cause, it wasn't a particularly worthy one.  The House of Bourbon hadn't shown itself to be good rulers.   Of course the revolutionaries weren't any better.  Someone with better judgment would want to stay well away from France and its volatile political situation, but Armand never thought anything through.       

I thought that Esther was the most interesting and best developed character in the book.  There were numerous things that bothered me about  Armand, but what absolutely drove me crazy about him was that he was too trusting.  So I had to categorize him as TSTL (Too Stupid To Live).  He and the heroine, Isabella, both took too long to figure out what was really going on in Ilfracombe.    Esther didn't figure it out at all, but she was old and not in good health. What was Armand and Isabella's excuse?

There is a requisite HEA for the romance, but I didn't like Armand.  I kept on wishing that Isabella had a more sensible alternative.

                                               

                                                           

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jam on the Vine by @LaShondaKatrice: An African American Girl Who Grew Up To Be " The Voice of A Community"

I'm pretty sure that Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett was on the Goodreads page for Balm which I reviewed on this blog here.  It was a book that was added by people who liked Balm.  Since I was looking for another high quality African American historical novel, I prioritized the book on my library TBR.  The protagonist is Ivoe Williams who wanted to be a journalist from an early age.  I've never read a historical novel dealing with African American newspapers.  So I thought I'd learn a great deal about their history and the historical context by reading this book.

                                         


The book starts in late 19th century Texas.  I am well aware that the issues which the current Black Lives Matter campaign focus on have a long history.  In the minds of some individuals, slavery was never abolished.  Black people owning anything, or having any degree of independence angers these people.  They don't want to accept that African Americans are human beings with the same rights as other Americans.  

 Ivoe  was born to parents who had been free all their lives.  Her  mother was an Islamic woman who owned land and had a small business.  She sold jam made from the tomatoes that she grew in her garden.  Everyone called her Lemon, but her birth name was Leila. Lemon's parents came from a Muslim enclave in 19th century Alabama.  To learn more about the history of African Muslims in the United States read Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf . Ivoe's father Ennis was a metalsmith.  Both were well regarded within Little Tunis, an African American neighborhood.

 Yet this community was an island surrounded by a sea of hatred. As a child, Ivoe first became aware of this when her school was burned down because a little black boy was seen reading to an elderly white woman. A generation earlier it was a crime to teach blacks to read.  Ivoe's writing ambitions were anathema in this context.

Since my last review for Book Babe dealt with a novel whose protagonist was a journalist, I noticed that like Rebekah Roberts in Invisible City, Ivoe's first attempt at an article didn't credit its sources.  It's important to point out that Rebekah had the opportunity to study journalism, so she really should have known better.  Ivoe never had that opportunity.  She did learn how to write better stories from Ona Darden, a woman who became very important in Ivoe's life.  Ona told her, "You are the voice of a community."  So Ivoe's journalistic career wasn't just about achieving her own dreams. She was representing African Americans.  Ivoe's sense of what it meant to speak on behalf of her people evolved over time as she matured.

The discovery I made in this book that astonished me most was that African Americans were engaged in sign carrying street protests against segregation in the early 20th century.  I had always thought that civil rights demonstrations began in the 1960's, but there was one described in this book that really did take place in 1905. There were all sorts of African American protests before the 1960's that were reported in African American newspapers like Ivoe Williams' fictional publication, Jam on the Vine. Some historical African American newspapers have been digitized. You can access them on the Library of Congress website

African American newspapers also reported on atrocities.The mass murders of African Americans and burnings of their neighborhoods in the early 20th century which are mentioned in Jam on the Vine remind me very much of anti-Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe during this period. A great wave of  Jewish immigration appeared on the shores of England and America. At the same time,  a vast influx of African Americans arrived in the cities of the North. This was called the Great Migration which is often framed as a quest for factory jobs.  I realized with Ivoe that although such jobs may have been a consequence of this exodus for some, blacks were really fleeing for their lives.

I was very impressed with the coverage of issues dealt with in Jam of the Vine and their relevance to  Black Lives Matter.  I also loved the way the major characters and their relationships were portrayed.  Lesbian love was shown to be the equal of heterosexual love.  This is certainly one of the best novels that I have read in 2015.