Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dreaming Spies: So How Was Your Trip To Japan, Mary Russell?

I love Mary Russell.  This mystery series is Laurie R. King's revision of the Sherlock Holmes mythos that includes a female apprentice who later becomes his wife.  She  co- investigates cases with Sherlock Holmes, she is a capable fighter, excellent at playing a role, knows many languages and studies religion at Oxford.  Some would call her a Mary Sue, but she isn't perfect by any means.  She has a traumatic background that has given her nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD-- particularly in Locked Rooms.  Yet Mary Russell is a strong survivor.

So I prioritized the ARC of  Dreaming Spies when I was approved for it at Net Galley.  This is the most recent novel in the Mary Russell series which will be released in February 2015.

                                           



Dreaming Spies is the much anticipated Japan novel.  Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes travel to 1920's Japan simply because they have never been there.  Since I truly relish novels that delve into Japanese culture, I had high hopes for this book.   One of the characters is a very capable female ninja.  We learn that female ninjas are called kunoichi. There are further revelations about ninjas, and their role in Japanese culture.  It should have been very exciting.

I really did like the Japanese cultural content and the female ninja.   As a lover of fiction that contains martial arts, I enjoyed the inclusion of a kendo scene with wooden practice swords known as shinai. I liked seeing Mary Russell at Oxford at a research library in the final section of the book that took place in England.    

 Alas, Dreaming Spies doesn't rank with my favorite Mary Russell novels.  I found it relatively low key.   There is a tragic death in this book, but I felt distanced from it.  This is because we have barely been introduced to the victim when his life comes to a sudden end. It was also much less suspenseful than I would expect from a mystery.  In the first 60% of the novel, the main focus of suspense is whether Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes will get to a meeting on time.  The protagonists do lots of traveling in Japan, but don't accomplish very much.  This is the kind of book that is more about the journey rather than being about arriving at a destination.  There are some great scenes in the novel, but I'm not sure that this sort of narrative is compatible with the mystery genre.

Many other reviews have complained that Dreaming Spies is slow.  How slow is it?  Let's just say that it literally put me to sleep twice.  The first time I was on a bus and discovered I'd missed my stop when I woke up.  I kept on hoping that Laurie R. King would deliver, so I persisted.   Eventually, I was rewarded when the investigation goes into high gear starting at 66%.  Still I felt that I didn't get enough of a payoff.  The real mystery wasn't the perpetrator in the blackmail plot.  It was a secret document.   The Japanese characters were so dedicated to making certain that the contents of this document are never made public, but the reader doesn't even get a clue  about the secret that they are risking their lives to defend.  So when I closed the book I felt cheated. What was it all about? Was it worth all the danger?  I wish I knew.        

                                             
                                     

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Different Types of Sisterhood...Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Sisters of Heart and SnowThis is a very engrossing tale that shows the different types of sisterhood: that which we choose (of the heart) and that which we're born with. They are bonds of equal strength.

There are two stories here: late 1100s Japan, following a woman soldier (samurai) and her sister of the heart, her lover's wife. The women are very different, one being of home and hearth, one being a fighter. The modern story follows two sisters struggling to find themselves late in their middle age and let the past be in the past. Their childhood has molded them into people they don't always want to be.

We're kept in a lot of suspense with the modern tale. What secret did their mother keep all those years? What is their dad going to use to blackmail Rachel into giving up power of attorney? (Her mother has dementia and is in a home). Will Rachel and her dad make amends? What is going on with Rachel's daughter? This kept me reading even though at times I felt the story dragged. Don't get me wrong; I liked the book, but at the 3/4 point, I just wanted to get the answers and move on. For me the book was longer than it needed to be, for the story it contained.

I especially enjoyed the theme about control. Controlling everything and everyone isn't the answer.

I do have some quibbles.

I think the historical tale...there wasn't enough time spent on it, while the modern tale was way too drawn out. I was apparently supposed to feel this great bond between Yamabuchi and Tomoe, but I really didn't. Their bits were too short for me to really grasp any closeness between them.

The fact that Rachel's parts were first-person present tense, Tomoe's parts were third-person, past tense, and Drew's parts third-person, present tense was very jarring.

Except for Rachel, I didn't find these women very strong. They all submit or lose themselves in a man. After the way that bratty child spoke to Drew at the carnival and the way the kid's father pandered to the child, I'd have run away, fast, not subjected myself to more of that behavior. Quincy is obsessed for a man. Tomoe may be great with a sword but she's weak for a crazy man who doesn't treat her well. She always does his bidding even when she doesn't agree with him. Yamabuchi is somewhat strong now that I think on it. She faces a lot of crap and even though she's in a life she wasn't trained or ready for, she tries her best. Rachel and Drew's mother...I'm not even touching that one. Some things were still not clear to me about her in the end. I get she sold her soul to the devil to have a better life, but why be such a horrid, negligent mother? And I realize she was holding part of herself out of shame, but still...this woman was hard for me to comprehend.

Rachel bucks up in the end, once she finally stops giving her father the power to affect/hurt her. In my eyes, Rachel had the strongest story and moral and strength.

Don't give people the power to hurt you and they can't. At some point in life, you must be able to brush their words off, see them for what they are.

Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed the book and found it well written. The characterizations were distinct and consistent, something not easy to do when writing about five or six different women.

I received this via Amazon Vine.


Friday, December 19, 2014

How Quilts Are More Than Blankets: A Guest Post from Leah Zieber, Author of Libby Morgan: Reunion


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Publication Date: September 7, 2014
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 283
ASIN: B00O35L1MO
Series: American Heritage Quilt Series
Genre: YA/Historical Fiction

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03_Libby Morgan Reunion CoverComing from a long line of seamstresses, Libby has yet to sew anything more than the rudimentary button or hem, but on a visit to Connecticut she learns more than just how to sew patchwork. Set in 1855 New England and London, this tender story, Libby Morgan: Reunion, follows tenacious Elizabeth (Libby) Jane Morgan through her thirteenth summer of new adventures at home and abroad. She is given a birthday gift of sewing tools and fabric, as well as old family letters to use as templates for making her first quilt. Her decision to first read the letters results in questions that only her Grandmother Morgan’s stories can answer—stories of true love, horrible loss and family connections to London nobles. Her keen eye and inquisitive nature draws her family into a mysterious investigation that tests their faith, challenges their ability to forgive, and results in a resurrection and reunion of lost hearts.





*****Guest Post from Leah Zieber*****

Book Babe asked, "Did your own family history inspire this story or anything in it? If not, is there something in your family history that would be of interest to readers?"

Quilting is only one of the many forms of needlework that are longstanding, traditional pastimes in my family, pastimes that shaped my childhood and gave significance to my adult life. My writing draws from the many memories I have of my great Aunt Ruthie who was my pseudo grandmother growing up – my own grandmother being estranged from the family. I spent many summers with her, watching television while she sewed on the applique quilts she loved to make. I formed a close connection with Aunt Ruthie, as hers was the home I would seek refuge in during my own family’s struggles. Much of Mother Morgan’s character is based upon Aunt Ruthie and her sewing abilities.  She was an incredible seamstress, like her mother before her, and she was fascinating to watch; she sewed, crocheted, tatted and knitted tirelessly and seemingly without effort. She patiently taught me to embroider and crochet and she sparked in me an interest in quilting I did not foster until later in my adult life.
When I first began to make quilts, I always felt like there was part of the equation I did not posses and therefore felt my quilts lacked substance. I loved selecting fabric, cutting it to bits and putting it all back together in an esthetically pleasing pattern, but something told me there was more to making a quilt than what I knew. I struggled to figure out what was missing and it wasn’t until I joined a quilt history group that I found the element I lacked. In many of the antique and vintage quilts I examined, there was a story that equated to more than just random bits of cloth sewn together. The quilters of the past had worked meaning into their projects – meaning that could be found in their fabric choices as well as the images and the symbolism they sewed into their bedcoverings. Sometimes the meaning was political, sometimes religious, sometimes just for sentiment’s sake, but nearly always I found that the antique and vintage quilts portrayed something special for the maker or the receiver or both.
I wanted to know the history that was hidden in the quilts I studied – and not just the history of the people who made them, but the history of the fabrics, the threads, the battings and most importantly the reasons why the quilts were made. This search for understanding pushed me further into studying American quilt making and the history of textiles in America. And as I began to purchase antique quilts for my own collection, I earnestly sought to know my new possession’s provenance in hope of finding out what stories might be hidden in the folds of it’s past. This revelation - that a quilt has it’s own history – is what brought new depth to my quilt making and inspired me to write the story of Libby Morgan and her family.
Unlike some of the 19th century quilt stories available today, the quilt traditions talked about in Libby Morgan: Reunion are based upon provable, factual evidence. Significant research was done on the 19th century quilts and the other textile subjects in the story; for example, English paper piecing with letters, the bits of fabric in the ledgers at the Foundling Hospital in England, the Godey’s Lady’s Book references, and the tools used by the characters are all historically accurate. And though none of the early quilts referenced in this first book are from my family, as the series progresses, much will be drawn from the pieces of my collection that were made by my own ancestors.  
I want to share with young girls and women historically accurate stories of American quilting traditions and help them to understand that quilts can be more than just utilitarian blankets. I hope the reader will come to know that the stitches and fabric and time spent making a quilt is truly a gift to posterity that can one day be looked upon with meaningful understanding of the past. Through my stories I hope to give an accurate and factual glimpse at the history behind America’s love of quilt making and bring readers closer to an understanding of all that a quilt can and does represent.



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About the Author

02_Leah Zieber AuthorLeah A. Zieber is a quilt historian and quilt maker from Temecula, California, specializing in American quilt history and reproduction quilts from the nineteenth century. Her quilts have been exhibited across the country in quilt shows, museums and historical societies and were most recently published in Stars: A Study of 19th Century Star Quilts. Leah has worked closely with Southern California collectors, cataloging, managing, and independently researching their textile collections. Her own collection of antique quilts and related textile items spans one hundred and eighty five years, and she shares her knowledge of American quilt history using her collection in lectures and workshops. Libby Morgan: Reunion is her debut novel and the first in her American Heritage Quilt Series.

For more information please visit Leah Zieber's website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

The Secrets of MidwivesI was expecting more of a historical tale to this. When I hear "midwife" I think of Call the Midwife or of women running from one log house to another in the last 1800s to assist with a birth. There's none of that in this book. It's about modern midwives, about how they are still doing their thing, while facing nursing boards threatening to provoke licenses and arguing with doctors who think they know it all. I found this read very insightful about the lives and careers of modern midwives and what they believe about mother and baby bonding and all that.

Despite it being different from what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the women I met within its pages. I zipped through this in two days, dying to know what was going to happen next. There's hospital drama, marital drama, and secrets from the past. There's spousal abuse--a kind I never thought of. There's mother/daughter relationships and above all a strong moral: love is love. Biology has nothing to do with it.

It's very well written too, not overly descriptive or boring or long winded. It is a very good first novel. I'm impressed.

A quick recap for those who need it: Floss was a midwife in the fifties. She has a big secret she's been keeping from her daughter and granddaughter and now partner. It's holding her back from really enjoying her life. Grace is too pushy with her daughter, Neva. This makes Neva steer clear. Grace's drama is about her license, the board. Through her we see some of the hostility between hospital doctors and midwives and the difference in their beliefs. Neva is a modern midwife who toes the line between both worlds by working in a birth center attached to a hospital. She's pregnant and refuses to name the father. Why?

As I said above, very suspenseful, but I confess I had Floss's story figured out around page 100. Yet, Neva, I couldn't quite get it. But this is also where my quibble comes in. While kept in suspense as to who the father of Neva's baby is...it also felt too Jerry Springish as Neva decided first one man then another must be the dad. I mean, just how many men are you bedding in the course of a month, lady? Dang.

That just sort of put me off. I'm all for women taking what they want, when they want, but a nurse should have some more smarts than this. So she doesn't think she's likely to get preggers, I get it, but there are diseases out there. Hello? I'm amazed a woman in the medical profession is that dumb. I really am. To bed miscellaneous men without protection.

My only other quibble is I'd have liked more of the relationship between Floss and Lily. As it was, I had to wonder why Lily was even in the book. There was way too little to make it count.

I received this via Amazon Vine.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Agnes Canon's War

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Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Pages: 300

Genre: Historical Fiction

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“I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks..”

02_Agnes Canon's WarAgnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.

This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.

It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.

As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.

This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.

*****REVIEW*****

I loved Agnes. Had the entire tale followed Agnes and stuck to Agnes, I'd have been an overjoyed reader. She's a terrific woman and character. The things I admired about her: her stance on slavery, her desire for independence, the fact she obtains this independence and later marries without really giving up who she is.

But I didn't care for the hero. And as much of the book focuses on him and his opinions (he's a secessionist), I got a bit tired of it and began skimming. He lost even more favor with me when he bought a pair of slaves. I don't care that he never beats them. I was already struggling with his character. He comes across as a know-it-all too and I didn't find this very romantic.

However, I must say, I like how the story showed us that even if a woman is independent and has a mind of her own, people (townsfolk) don't necessarily see it that way. I felt for Agnes as the town shunned her because of her husband's views to the point she gets kicked out of church. The story also tells the history of Missouri before the Civil War. I have read about the Kansas situation before, but not Missouri, about the war--and trust me, it's a nasty battle, on both sides--as the abolitionists from the north and the slave owners from the south duke it out on what was supposed to be neutral territory.

It's a very historically informative novel. I could have, however, done without the nasty brothers. *shudders* But violence happened and this story really does tell it like it was.

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About the Author

03_Deborah Lincoln AuthorDeborah Lincoln grew up in the small town of Celina, among the cornfields of western Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan. She and her husband have three grown sons and live on the Oregon coast.

Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have dropped below the surface like a stone in a lake, with not a ripple left behind to mark the spot.”

Agnes Canon’s War is the story of her great great-grandparents, two remarkable people whose lives illustrate the joys and trials that marked America’s tumultuous nineteenth century.

For more information on Deborah Lincoln please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Agnes Canon's War Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 8
Review at Forever Ashley
Review at Back Porchervations

Tuesday, December 9
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Wednesday, December 10
Review at Too Fond

Friday, December 12
Review at Just One More Chapter
Guest Post at Mina's Bookshelf

Monday, December 15
Review at Luxury Reading

Wednesday, December 17
Review at Book Babe
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, December 18
Review at Griperang's Bookmarks

Friday, December 19
Review at Boom Baby Reviews
Interview at Layered Pages

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sewing Can Be Dangerous: Stories with the Threads

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Publication Date: December 16, 2013
Mockingbird Lane Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio Book
Pages: 276
Genre: Historical Fiction/Short Stories

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02_Sewing Can Be Dangerous CoverThe eleven long short stories in “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980’s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial ‘star’ and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macramĂ© artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.



*****MY REVIEW*****

The first story...I'd really like the author to turn it into a novel, one of those dual-time-period stories. It's about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and a Jewish girl who has big dreams and must overcome difficult circumstances. The modern story is great too, reminding us to always do what's right and learn from the past.

The second story takes us back to the Salem witch trials. I didn't like this one as much--because something confused/bugged me (if the lady wanted to break the curse, why did she sit there and sew that pattern in the first place?) but I learned something I didn't know before: that Nathianel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, was actually related to a Hathorne who judged the Salem trials. Out of shame, Nathianel added the W. Interesting!

I like that the third tale featured a deaf slave who stitched maps of sorts in quilts, enabling other slaves to escape. I found it slightly preposterous though. I mean, I know how hard it is to lip read and all, and her not being able to read and write before her affliction...um. Well, it's possible, but not in southern slave environment. It's not like they had the time. But moving on...

The fourth tale had me on the edge of my seat for a bit--WWII, Germany, very intense--but there were also parts that didn't contribute to the actual story and that threw me off. Yet I liked it a lot better than the next two, which weren't really historical. One was an 80s version of Romeo and Juliet and one was a doctor trying to do right and paying a price for it. And then came a story that though historical, had the kind of dialogue I loathe--thees and thous and whatnot. I skipped that one, I'm ashamed to say.

There's a mystery and then a Zodiac killer story--I didn't see how this tied into sewing. Then a pleasant, if somewhat unlikely, tale about a Native American and a woman making peace between their people through her sewing obsession.

Conclusion: The historical stories were my favorite. I'm still especially impressed with the first one. The more modern, the seventies and forward, I didn't like so much, but that's a personal preference.


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Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads is now in AUDIO!!! Listen to narrator, Suzie Althens, breathe life and depth into these stories!






About the Author

03_S.R. MalleryS.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life.

First, a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt.

“Unexpected Gifts”, her debut novel, is currently available on Amazon. “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads”, her collection of short stories, Jan. 2014, both books by Mockingbird Lane Press.

For more information please visit S.R. Mallery’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 1

Review at Unshelfish

Tuesday, December 2

Review at Bibliotica

Wednesday, December 3

Review at History From a Woman's Perspective

Thursday, December 4

Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews and More

Friday, December 5

Guest Post at What Is That Book About

Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog

Monday, December 8

Review at WV Stitcher

Tuesday, December 9

Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews

Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Wednesday, December 10

Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, December 11

Review at Book Nerd

Friday, December 12

Review at Based on a True Story

Monday, December 15

Review at CelticLady's Reviews

Tuesday, December 16

Review at Book Babe

Wednesday, December 17

Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, December 19

Review at Book Drunkard



Monday, December 15, 2014

The World Unseen: Rebels Against Apartheid in the South African Indian Community



I have been interested in reading novels about apartheid South Africa ever since I read K.P. Kollenborn’s  How The Water Falls earlier this year.   I reviewed it here .  After that I read one book after another in Malla Nunn’s apartheid South Africa mystery series about the mixed race detective Emmanuel Cooper.  See the Goodreads Page on the Emmanuel Cooper Series.

This recent reading history is why I noticed The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif.  In addition to taking place in apartheid South Africa, it deals with the Indian community in South Africa.  I’ve been wanting to find out more about Indians in South Africa ever since I read that Gandhi had lived there and was radicalized by the experience.  See this page on Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha on the American National Public Radio’s website.
                                             
                                              



The World Unseen deals primarily with two Indian families in South Africa which have non-conformist members that refuse to co-operate with apartheid.  Amina has an African business partner with whom she runs a cafĂ©.    Amina is also a lesbian.  This is never stated explicitly.  There is a reference to a past relationship with a woman, but there is no explicit lesbian sexuality in this book.  So the cover might be considered misleading in the view of readers who are looking for an explicit lesbian romance.   Amina becomes attracted to Miriam.  Miriam’s husband had a sister who married an English descended South African.  They left South Africa in order to get married and reside in Paris.  The trouble starts when this rebellious couple decide to come home for a visit.  The actions that characters in this novel take in response to this visit reveals them for who they really are, and changes relationships. 

I liked the Indian perspective and the characters who wanted to be unconventional in such a repressive environment.  I only wished that the book could have been a bit longer.  There are possibilities for the future, but no indication of whether they will really develop.  There is a movie based on this novel.  Here is the official website .  Since I haven't seen the movie, I don't know which version I would prefer. Although this is still one of the best books that I’ve read in 2014, I would have liked it even better if there were more of a resolution.