Friday, October 31, 2014

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday: An Edgar Allan Poe Twist on the Classic Jekyll & Hide

Of Monsters and MadnessI thought this would be a perfect Halloween book. It's spooky and Gothic as it follows a young heroine in a household of secrets. Fresh off the boat from Siam, Annabel is thrust into a new home and life that isn't what she expected. Her father has a mysterious illness and a horrible temper. His assistants come and go at strange hours dragging burlap sacks--one is horrid; one steals her heart. There's an angry tutor blackmailing her father over who-knows-what, and a murderer on the loose.

I like the heroine and her narrative, though I thought it could have been told in a much scarier manner. (I guess this is complaint one. I wasn't scared. What should have come across as spine-tingling somehow fell flat.) She wants to be a doctor despite her father's protests and doesn't see herself as better than anyone else. There's a mystery attached to her too, her throat. And we never get all the answers. I didn't realize this, but this is apparently the first of a series. It must be as it leaves us hanging.

And that is compliant two. I hate being left hanging. That's why I don't usually read a lot of series, not unless they're mysteries in which a case is upon and shut with the book and a new case begins with the next.

And despite the heroine's feminist leanings, she comes off a bit weak in the end. I liked her, would like to know what happens to her, but there was something lacking.

And the end...it glosses over two apparently extremely exciting weeks. It goes from a house nearly burning down and a tragic death to just flying over two weeks in which apparently something drastic happens to her father. (I'm not revealing what to avoid spoiling). But I am perturbed, because what happens to her father actually sounds kind of exciting and despite the fact there's a murderer on the loose and all that, the book lacked excitement. As I said above, something got lost in the telling.

I think the idea was great. Edgar is Hyde. Allan is Jekyll. Allan cannot write dark stuff without Edgar's nasty experiences. There was apparently a period of time in which the real Poe was in Philly and the author is just making this up to fill in the blanks. It's a good idea. It just fell flat in the end. The cover and title promises a fright, but I wasn't frightened. I did like the fact that the story wasn't predictable though. I had no clue how it was going to end.

But in a way, it didn't end. Hm.

I received this via Amazon Vine.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Always Loved You: A Difficult Relationship Between Artists



I really liked the portrayal of American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt in City of Darkness and Light, a Molly Murphy mystery by Rhys Bowen, which I reviewed for Book Babe here.  When I did research for that review, I discovered that Mary Cassatt was a feminist.  That’s why I was intrigued by I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira, a novel that focuses on Mary Cassatt’s relationship with the Impressionist painter Edgar Degas.   

                                                 

                                                                                                         
The Mary Cassatt that I encountered in Robin Oliveira’s novel contrasts with the one that I saw in Rhys Bowen’s mystery.  One reason is that the mystery took place in 1905 when her circumstances were quite different than they were earlier in her life.  Mary Cassatt was financially dependent on her father, Robert Cassatt, when she first arrived in Paris.   Her father took even more control over her life when he and the rest of Mary Cassatt’s family moved to Paris in 1877.  She had to move in with her family and had to account for every expense.   Being a feminist and standing up for your rights is much more difficult when you are dependent on someone else, but Mary did manage to change her father’s opinion about her painting career in Oliveira’s novel.  Her financial independence later in her life, after the death of her parents, is probably due to her father’s shift in attitude.  She inherited enough money to live on her own and continue to paint.

 I was pleased by Mary’s professional evolution over the course of the novel.  She took the risk of allying herself with the Impressionists when the painting establishment rejected them, and the public didn’t understand their work.  She was interested in learning new techniques and experimentation. 

I was not at all pleased by Robin Oliveira’s portrayal of Mary’s relationship with Degas.   She would stop speaking to him because he had been verbally abusive and extremely inconsiderate toward her, but then she would forgive him.  She apparently loved him, but Degas was emotionally unstable.  He could be very helpful and supportive to Mary, but then he would suddenly withdraw and fail to keep his professional commitments.  His negative behavior tended to coincide with Degas losing faith in his own work. Given Oliveira’s portrayal of Degas, I wondered if he was in fact bipolar or was a survivor of abuse himself.   The BipolarAid website lists Degas as clinically depressed rather than bipolar.  I think that Degas deserved compassion, but Mary should not have allowed him to undermine her career during his bouts with depression. I thought that the characterization in I Always Loved You was painfully honest, but I was nevertheless disappointed in the way Mary Cassatt related to Degas.  I wanted her to be stronger which caused me to like this novel less.

                                 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tried & True by Mary Connealy: Youngest Wilde Sister Not So Wild

Tried and True (Wild at Heart, #1)"Women can and do, Mr. Masterson. I'm living proof that there are women serving right there alongside the men."

It's rare for me to dedicate days to reading a book and then me not like it, but that's what happened this time. We have a terrific premise here. A brilliant idea. Three sisters, all posing as men and homesteading land after they fought in the American Civil War. The plan is to make this huge family ranch to honor their dead brother. The puppetmaster in all this is their controlling father.

It sounds exciting. But I don't much care for this sister, the youngest one, Kylie. She's a total wuss. I'm all for dressing up and going to tea parties. Heck, yea. I believe in being as tough as a man but never forgetting you're a woman and embrace that femininity...but this Kylie got on my nerves so bad. She's a slacker. She makes others do the work for her. First it's her sisters, then it's her husband. She doesn't want to build her own dang house or even fight her own dang battles.

He could fight with Pa all the time, so she wouldn't have to.

Aaron had started building, Kylie had helped very little. Aaron never once scolded her for not grabbing an ax and hacking down a tree...

She also gives up too easy. And frankly, none of these actions of hers fit with her her original characterization. This is a woman who spied during the war? Seriously?

So complaint two, the characterization is inconsistent.

Complaint three: the story repeats so much. The narrative tells us the same thing over and over. It will tell us about her treacherous situation on the roof and a few sentences later, it tells us again in different words. The dialogue, same thing. People repeat their stories over and over or say the same thing they just said a few paragraphs ago.

And my last complaint...frankly I think their Civil War service/stories sound a lot more exciting than this. The story here was of people trying to scare Kylie off her land, land she doesn't want anyway. There are some fire arrows and some snakes. And a man always rushing in to save her (see complaint one again). I'd rather read about spying during the war and whatever these sisters went through. Even some flashbacks would have livened this up, perhaps helped with Kylie's weak character.

I actually got so irritated and bored and tired of the repetition, I quit at 80%. I could see where the tale was going. I already knew whodunnit, and Kylie's character was only getting worse. This one simply wasn't for me.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Makes Dearest Darling Stand Out From Other Mail-Order Brides?

When Tara asked me what makes Dearest Darling different from other mail order bride stories, I had to think twice. In actual fact, I had never set out to write a 'mail order bride' story and, therefore, had never considered my novella as one. Then someone else commented to me, 'nice twist on the mail order bride theme,' and I realized that I had, indeed, written…a mail order bride story. Perhaps this wasn't at the forefront of my mind because what had spurned the story was, in fact, the idea of The Wild Rose Press' 'Love Letters' series. I loved that letter idea, and the first thing that came into my brain was: what if the love letter went to the wrong person?

Most mail order bride stories I've come across seem to deal with either the hero or the heroine not getting what they bargained for. My hero, Daniel Saunders, certainly doesn't get what he bargained for—he gets totally the wrong bride. That's plot twist number one. Without giving away any spoilers, there are at least four more unexpected twists to come. But what fascinates most readers of these stories is the fact that a woman would venture out into the unknown with the actual intent of marrying someone she had never met. Nowadays, we're pretty nervous and suspicious about doing online dating via something like Match or eHarmony. Things also move a lot faster in today's world; you can email back and forth, Skype to get to know the other person before ever agreeing to meet that person. Furthermore, these matches are made within a specified geographical area so that the two people can easily meet. In Dearest Darling, this venture into distant, uncharted territory is compounded because Emily Darling, the heroine, has never corresponded with the person to whom she is traveling with the intention of marriage; she has only ever read one letter of his, and that has touched her heart enough to give her the courage to go. Of course, to her it proved a more tempting fate than the one to which she was doomed by her overbearing brother, but even weighing up the odds, it's a pretty dang plucky thing to do.

So what about my hero? Visualize that the west is full of lonely single men, and good women, not soiled doves, are at a premium. Former soldiers who moved west for their next big escapade, men seeking wealth in silver or gold, men just seeking their fortune whatever way it would come, headed west as the frontier expanded. But unattached women? Perhaps the odd schoolmarm with a sense of adventure, the singular women who had some sort of profession or trade, but very few. So, there is Daniel Saunders, well educated and alone, not a person who would put an ad in a paper but someone who would write to the friend of an acquaintance. And then what happens?

Well, to find out more I'm afraid you're going to have to read the book.

***

Stuck in a life of servitude to her penny-pinching brother, Emily Darling longs for a more exciting existence. When a packet with travel tickets, meant for one Ethel Darton, accidentally lands on her doormat, Emily sees a chance for escape. Having turned down the dreary suitors that have come her way, is it possible a new existence also offers a different kind of man?

Daniel Saunders has carved out a life for himself in Wyoming—a life missing one thing: a wife. Having scrimped and saved to bring his mail-order bride from New York, he is outraged to find in her stead a runaway fraud. Even worse, the impostor is the sister of his old enemy.

But people are not always as they seem, and sometimes the heart knows more than the head.



***
Andrea Downing likes to say that when she decided to do a Masters Degree, she made the mistake of turning left out of New York, where she was born, instead of right to the west, and ended up in the UK. She eventually married there, raising a beautiful daughter and staying for longer than she cares to admit. Teaching, editing a poetry magazine, writing travel articles, and a short stint in Nigeria filled those years until in 2008 she returned to NYC. She now divides her time between the city and the shore, and often trades the canyons of New York for the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Family vacations are often out west and, to date, she and her daughter have been to some 20 ranches throughout the west. Loveland, her first book, was a finalist for Best American Historical at the 2013 RONE Awards. Lawless Love, a short story, part of The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series, was a finalist for Best Historical Novella at the RONE Awards. Dearest Darling, a novella, is part of The Wild Rose Press Love Letters series, and comes out Oct. 8th and Dances of the Heart, another full length novel, comes out in the next few months.

Links to Social Media: WEBSITE AND BLOG: http://andreadowning.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerAndreaDowning

Twitter: @andidowning https://twitter.com/AndiDowning

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6446229.Andrea_Downing

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=124888740&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Andrea-Downing/e/B008MQ0NXS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Buy Links: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dearest-Darling-Letters-Andrea-Downing-ebook/dp/B00NGWT816

The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=5842


Monday, October 27, 2014

A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick

A Light in the WildernessInside, she didn't have to feel the piercing hurt when a woman "hallo-ed" her and then stopped waving when Letitia turned her dark face toward the westerly-heading wife. She had yet to see another colored woman in all the wagons they'd passed. She longer to share a mother's stories, how Martha curled herself into Letitia's breast, how she nursed, soft and gentle, never greedy, as though she knew her mother had more than enough to give this child. But the women had turned aside.

It's pre-Civil War. There's nothing more treasured to a Negro than "free papers". Unless they get in the wrong hands or a "hunter" tears them up. Letitia has these papers. She plans to take these papers all the way to Oregon with her white husband. Yep. You read correctly.

But sadly, it wasn't legal back then for mixed marriages. All they can do is promise each other to take care of each other, keep each other safe. I guess you could call this a love story, though I couldn't stand the man and doubted his "love" at times. But don't we often doubt the love of men in real life too?

This is the story of that, of trust being stretched, broken, mended. Of a marriage with ups and downs. It's the story of the Oregon trail--rivers forged, sicknesses acquired, rules and captains, Indians, cattle theft, friendships and enemies made, loved ones lost. There's the story of a friendship that knows no color barrier. It's about the plight of not only the American Negro, of former slaves--are they really free as they life a life of fear?, but also of the plight of women, at the mercy of their husbands and being told they must marry again asap when they lose one.

I went through many emotions as I read this. Fear when That G.B. Smith came around threatening Letitia. Anger when Letitia was treated poorly by the other women on the trail. Warmth when she interacted with Nancy. Frustration at her husband's unwillingness to sign some papers. Panic when the flour barrel got swapped. And I was completely immersed in the time period.

And the ending got me so riled up. I had seen it coming, wanted Letitia to act in advance, prevent it, go away, do something...and just as I was about to throw the kindle against the wall, she amazes me. She is amazing, how she stands up for herself and her children and in a way, her people.

I'd also like to add that though Ms. Kirkapatrick is a Christian fiction writer, there was nothing preachy in this story. I've read her books before and this is by far my favorite.

My quibbles: There was so very little of the Native American woman, I feel a tad let down. I don't see why she was even mentioned in the blurb. I also didn't care for the grammar in the dialogue. I get it's accurate, but sometimes it makes an irritating read.

Conclusion: A very thought-evoking historical story about women who braved a LOT: people's cruelty, men's stubborness, weather, life in general, hardships we can't even imagine, fear on a daily basis, and while they lost so much, they never lost their spunk or courage.

I received this via Netgalley.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

9 to 5: Comedy With a Burst of Feminism

"I got a gun out there in my purse and up to now I've been forgivin' and forgettin' because of the way I was brought up, but I'll tell you one thing, if you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I'm gonna get that gun of mine and change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot."

I first learned of this movie whilst watching Makers: Women in Hollywood. Actually my mother says we watched it when I was kid, but I don't remember. In the doc, Jane Fonda grows quite emotional as she talks about this film, the third made by her own production company. Believe it or not, this was one of the first movies that made really "made it" aka grossed a LOT of money that was geared toward women. As a matter of fact, Ms. Fonda said something about going around asking women office workers, "If you could do anything to your boss, what would it be?" and getting some amazing answers! It was also revealed that the theme song became the Women Office Workers' anthem.

So now you have some background. I suggest watching Makers to get the real accurate 411 though. Ms. Fonda's passion and love for this one movie really resonates.

Though a comedy, the movie shows us the plight of women office workers--how their ideas are stolen by the higher ups, how they're passed over for promotions they deserve in favor of men with less experience, how they're relegated to serving coffee whether they're secretaries or not, how they're sexually harassed. And at first, these women seem to be "taking it". They need the job to support their four kids, to help them after a divorce, etc. But everyone has their limits.

And though this film was made in 1980, that crap still happens today. We may have more laws in place, but many women live in fear of actually utilizing those laws. There's the still the issue of workplace hostility...but I digress.

The beginning shows us their plight, how horrid their boss is. The middle shows them sharing a joint and their fantasies as to what they'd do to him. The end shows them standing up for themselves--with guns, S&M (or m&m, as Jane's character calls it)-like devices, rat poison, and of course words. And it's not all about bosses either. There's a philandering husband who thinks he can just walk back into his ex-wife's life after his mistress dumps him... Will the woman fall into his lecherous clutches again? Or stand up for herself against her ex as well as her boss?

They become feminists! Feminists who steal dead bodies, tie men up, send busybodies on language-learning trips, and who also renovate the workplace for women.

And while my summary may come across as crude or vulgar, I assure you the movie is absolutely NOT. I feel everything was done tastefully and that the folks who created this one--from the writer to the director to producer to actors--did a superb balancing act. The comedy never overshadows the seriousness of the women's plight, the plight never overshadows the comedy. As soon as you grow angry, the movie throws in a laugh, keeping the viewer in a good mood while still making them aware that being a woman in a 9 to 5 job has its frustrations.

Have you seen it already? Watch it again! Born after 1980 and never heard of it? Watch it now!



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Something Deaf People Really Need...

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles via
FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I don't think anyone listens to me. I don't know if the "right" people will read this post, the people who can do something about the situation. But I figure the more people who know, mention it, talk about it, the more likely someone in the situation of doing it will be to hear it...my plea.

Last weekend I went to my first opera. I saw Madame Butterfly. It wasn't really my kind of story. I sat there thinking, "Boy, they sure take a long time to say what they want to say...and all this ado over a man? A douchebag man? Come on, Madame Butterfly, it's been three years. Ask for a hall pass. He's so not worth this."

But I'm going again in March. Despite the fact there were only four bathroom stalls for hundreds of women. Despite the fact the stories aren't really my thing.

Can you guess why?

They have captions!!! Right there above the stage! On a digital screen! So for once, I'm on the same level as everyone else. Nobody there understood Italian. They had to read the captions, same as me.

But it was so easy to caption this thing. The captioning screen was so visible yet at the same time discreet. You don't have to look at it if you don't want to.

So why can't they do this to musicals and plays? There are tons of plays and musicals I would LOVE to see and enjoy: Chicago, It's Good Work if You Can Get It, 9 to 5, Bluestockings. But I don't bother going 'cause it's just lovely sounding blah blah blah blah to me.

So here's my plea. If there's anyone out there who can make this happen, I know I'm not the only deaf person in the world who is missing out on lots of cool things due to lack of captioning. We finally have open-caption night at the movie theaters. Let's bring captions to the stages too. PLEASE. And don't even get me started on comedy clubs...

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can possibly get something started? Should I make a petition? Who would I send it to? Comments welcome.