Monday, June 15, 2020

Ambush: The Third in a Series About A Female Marine

Publicist Wiley Saichek gifted me with the mystery/thriller Ambush by Barbara Nickless via Amazon.  I had not read the previous two books in this series, but I read a Goodreads review that assured me that this book can stand alone.  It resolves a major ongoing issue in the female protagonist's life that relates to her military service in the Iraq War, and contains all the background necessary for understanding it.

I was interested in the fact that protagonist Sydney Rose Parnell is a Marine.  I'm pretty sure that I'd never previously read a novel about a female Marine.  I believed that she would definitely be a strong female protagonist.  I was also intrigued by Sydney going to Mexico to find an Iraqi child in this book.


Regular readers of this blog will notice that the protagonist of the last book I read was also named Sydney.  This could be considered a coincidence, but it could also be possible that what was previously an unusual name for a woman is becoming more popular. 

The first person perspective of Sydney Parnell is a very intimate one.  We are exposed to her doubts and fears, but she never hesitates to act quickly when it's called for.   Being a Marine calls for courage.  I have always believed that courage isn't really about never being afraid.  It's about overcoming those fears.  When I first started reading Ambush, I questioned the risks that Sydney took.  Yet over the course of the narrative, I recognized that she was smart, resourceful and very well trained.   I particularly liked her alternate version of the Marine by-word, Semper Gumby , which Sydney translated as "always flexible".   Flexibility allows for quick improvisation of a new plan when the old one isn't working.   It increases the odds of surviving dangerous situations.

Sydney is no longer in the Marines.  She is now a railroad detective.  Yet she has a K9 partner in her investigations who is military trained. His name is Clyde, and he is a very good dog. Sydney and Clyde work well together, and have a great bond of affection between them.  I enjoyed this aspect of the book.

Ambush isn't a romance, but there is a romantic relationship in this book that I considered emotionally intense.  I have loved some romance novels because they had great characters, but none have moved me to tears.  I cried when I read about a certain relationship in Ambush.  I found it heart rending.  This testifies to the power of Barbara Nickless' writing.  For me, this was a two handkerchief book when it came to the romance.

The case that began with a traumatic experience for Sydney that took place in Iraq was difficult to resolve, and involved a great many murders perpetrated in Iraq, Mexico and the U.S.  All the characters were well developed including the individual who was behind all the killings. I was impressed by the characterization, and thought that the resolution was satisfying.  I recommend  Ambush and its author to fans of mysteries and thrillers. 


Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Talking Drum: Blog Tour and Review

  Book Summary

It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place.

Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi’s dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.

For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage.

Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.

Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.



Publicist Laura Marie asked me to join this blog tour for The Talking Drum, the debut novel of Lisa Braxton.  I accepted the free review copy that she supplied because I was interested in the issues involving race, class, immigration and urban culture conflict that Braxton raises.

The summary may lead readers to believe that female protagonist Sydney Stallworth is a character who solely plays a support role to others.  It's true that she's supportive, but I thought she genuinely believed in her husband's business.  The potential of The Talking Drum to become a center for African American culture was important to her.  Yet she also  pursued her own goals as well by becoming a local journalist.  If it weren't for her dedication in following the protests of the African immigrants in Petite Africa against the "urban redevelopment" that would shatter their lives, the truth about the fires in that neighborhood might never have been discovered.  I admired Sydney.   Because she cared so deeply, I felt that she inspired everyone around her to follow their own dreams.

Della Tolliver  is an example of someone who clearly benefited from the presence of Sydney in her life, though Della would never have believed it at the outset.  When we first meet Della, she's a very unhappy woman.  I didn't like her very much at that point, but she improves her life over the course of the narrative with Sydney's help.

Just as in real life, there is no permanent victory against the forces of "urban re-development" in The Talking Drum.  Let us hope that there will always be those like Lisa Braxton who will lift up the voices of the marginalized communities that could be impacted before it's too late.

                                   Lisa Braxton
Lisa Braxton Bio 

Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She is the former president of the Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Her stories and essays have been published in anthologies, magazines, and literary journals including Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Northwestern University Magazine and The Book of Hope. She received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category and was a finalist for the “Still I Rise” grant for Black Women Writers. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in mass media from Hampton University, her Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area. 

Talking Drum Buy Links

Monday, May 25, 2020

Hello Summer--Contemporary Woman Journalist Investigates Congressman's Death

I've never read mysteries by either Mary Kay Andrews or Kathy Hogan Trochek. Mary Kay Andrews is a pseudonym for Trochek.  Her Goodreads profile says that she established the pen name for books that would be more Southern oriented. Trochek lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

I was approached by publicist Meg Walker with a review request for Hello, Summer, the most recent Mary Kay Andrews novel.  The female journalist protagonist was what drew my interest. I appreciated that Trochek had been a journalist herself before beginning her career as a novelist. This meant that I could expect an authentic portrayal of the protagonist. The author gave her protagonist her own journalistic background.  They both had worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  I think that these shared circumstances increases the reader's confidence in the book's realism.

On this blog, I recently reviewed a book dealing with the real historical journalist, Nellie Bly here but I also reviewed The Suffragette Scandal, a romance by Courtney Milan in which the heroine was a fictional historical journalist  here.

Journalists play an important role in society. So I like to highlight them.  That's why I decided to accept the review request.  I received two print copies from the exceedingly generous publisher, St. Martin's Press.  My review is below.


From a mystery perspective, readers will need to be patient. There is a great deal of development of the characters and their relationships before the case gets going.  The mystery does get solved though the resolution isn't conventional.

Although there is a romance element in this novel,  it doesn't dominate the plot.  I read a review on Goodreads that complained that there was too little romance and too much politics.  I personally liked the balance of all the various aspects in  Hello, Summer within the narrative.

Readers of this blog will want to know that there were two wonderful woman characters in this novel in addition to protagonist Conley Hawkins.

 My personal favorite was her grandmother's housekeeper, Winnie.  Her strength in the face of  environmental injustice impressed me tremendously. I would have loved a novel in which Winnie was the protagonist in which we got to see her entire history as she experienced it. I suppose it would have been an environmental thriller.

Conley's eccentric grandmother was incredibly supportive of Conley's insistence on investigating stories regardless of who they offended.  She had inherited the ownership of a local newspaper, and it was she who upheld its journalistic standards.

 Conley brought valuable experience to her family's newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, from her work at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  She had reason to believe that the risks she was taking could make The Silver Bay Beacon more successful despite her sister's skepticism.

 I'm hoping that there will be another novel taking place in Silver Bay in which we get to see whether Conley's strategy paid off in the long run. Do local print newspapers have a future?  I'd like to think that they do.



Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Mazarinette and the Musketeer-- Lesbian Swordswomen in Historical Adventure Novelette

This is a review of a book I read at the end of February and didn't have a chance to review in that short month.

So I came to a point when I really wanted ESCAPISM.  The news was terrifying, and the last book I read was so dispiriting that I didn't want to promote it by putting my review on a blog.  Fortunately, I had recently downloaded a free book from the author's website that was just the thing I needed. It was The Mazarinette and the Musketeer by Heather Rose Jones.  Jones says on her website that she wrote it in response to  a challenge to create a musketeer story containing only female characters.  I just love sword wielding women.

As a fan of Alexandre Dumas' musketeer novels, I already figured out that the Mazarinette must be one of the seven actual daughters of a real historical personage, the powerful minister of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, Cardinal Mazarin.  See their Wikipedia article  for further information.   Jones says in her historical notes that the Mazarinettes really did wear the uniforms of their father's musketeers. The Mazarinette in this novelette was Hortense Mancini.  I have copied a public domain painting of Hortense from her own Wikipedia article below.

There were other real women among the characters in The Mazarinette and the Musketeer.  It does seem likely that Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex, did have a lesbian relationship with Hortense Mancini as portrayed in Jones' tale.  Julie d'Aubigny, who appears in The Mazarinette and the Musketeer as a teenager, was the subject of a number of fictional accounts about her during her lifetime.  It's difficult to know what's true and what isn't.   She was supposed to have traveled with her fencing master doing sword fighting exhibitions.  Finally,  Aphra Behn  was the first woman to have earned her living writing plays.  She also really was a spy for King Charles II of England as shown by Jones in this novelette.  She's one of my favorite historical personages and I find it impossible to pass up a book that contains her as a character.

The Mazarinette and the Musketeer was as entertaining as I expected with lots of sword fights and women disguised as men. I thought that the female characters were all delightful. This is my idea of a fun read.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Girl Puzzle: A Very Humanized Nellie Bly

When the Goodreads group Historical Fictionistas decided to allow authors that are active members of the group to nominate their own novels for the March Book of the Month, it had been some time since they had last allowed author members to do this.  The normal rule of the group is that authors can't nominate their own books.  This is a common rule among Goodreads groups.

 I was delighted when Kate Braithwaite nominated her Nellie Bly novel, The Girl Puzzle.  I quickly seconded the nomination, and it won.  I had already purchased it on Amazon a while back, but hadn't had an opportunity to get to it. It's nice to be able to read more historical fiction with strong woman protagonists during Women's History Month.  This means I can  provide more reviews than usual for Flying High Reviews.


I had actually read a novel focusing on patients at the asylum where journalist Nellie Bly did a ten day undercover investigation pretending to have amnesia in 1887.  That book was A Different Kind of Angel by Paulette Mahurin.  It was the best historical fiction that I read in 2018 and I reviewed it here.

The asylum was located on what was then called Blackwell's Island  which is in New York's East River.  It was re-named Roosevelt Island in 1973.  If you're interested in more information about the island's history, see its Wikipedia article here.

In comparing the two books I've read dealing with this late 19th century asylum, I feel that Mahurin's novel was very different in its orientation toward the patients. The fictional protagonist in A Different Kind of Angel was a refugee who was committed to that institution for not being able to speak English.  She clearly didn't belong there.  She encountered other patients who were also unjustly consigned to the asylum.  This protagonist  brought definitions of "sanity" into question. In The Girl Puzzle, Nellie Bly thought that a couple of patients didn't belong there, but the behavior of one patient and the history of the other caused Nellie to doubt her judgment.  So it was unclear whether any of these women were committed without justification.  It seemed to me that Braithwaite was coming down on the side of  compassionate Dr. Ingram who said it was "a complicated issue".  This positively portrayed asylum staff member commented to Nellie that patients could appear sane when they weren't.

It's important for me to add that all the rest of the asylum staff other than Dr. Ingram were portrayed by Braithwaite as either extremely abusive, or  arrogant and uncaring. In her author's note called "Fact and Fiction in The Girl Puzzle" she reveals that the staff  shown in her novel are all real individuals given their actual names, and that their behavior toward the patients is based on fact.  There was a grand jury investigation of this institution after the Nellie Bly expos√© , and this too is in the public record.

Another aspect of The Girl Puzzle that makes it dis-similar to A Different Kind of Angel is that it's dual period.  There is a narrator in Braithwaite's book who was Nellie Bly's secretary toward the end of her life.  This narrative displays the elderly Nellie Bly as having poor judgment.   Nellie Bly's secretary admired her employer for her courage and past achievements, but she acknowledged that this feminist heroine had flaws. In the 1887 narrative, Nellie Bly herself experienced moments of angst in which she wondered if she had taken too great a risk when she accepted her undercover assignment.

 I would consider Braithwaite's approach to her protagonist realistic.  She shows us a Nellie  Bly who is strong when the situation calls for it, but is also very human.  This makes The Girl Puzzle vastly superior to a Nellie Bly mystery that I DNFed because she never doubted herself , and kept on repeating the same errors.  Mystery fans call such characters TSTL (Too Stupid To Live).  That's why I recommend this novel by Braithwaite to readers who want believable female protagonists.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Tubman Command: "I Got An Insurrection To Plan." Harriet Tubman

When I read She Came to Slay, Erica Armstrong Dunbar's biography of Harriet Tubman for Black History Month, I learned about Tubman's great military achievement, the Combahee River Raid (1863).  There is a non-fiction book about it listed in Dunbar's bibliography, but I was unable to obtain it through libraries, and purchasing it was beyond my current means.  So when I was asked to list books that I'm reading for Women's History Month on a Goodreads group called Read Women, I selected a historical novel about the Combahee River Raid, The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobbs, as one of them.

I am particularly pleased to be reviewing a book about Harriet Tubman today because March 10 is the day assigned to Tubman in The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont.

I read both history and historical fiction.  I feel that each of them have their strengths.  I was looking forward to getting a window into the mind of Harriet Tubman, and feeling the impact of her leadership role in a Civil War military operation through the pages of  The Tubman Command.


Harriet Tubman was clearly a born leader who had a talent for planning and was a gifted speaker.  She was also determined to achieve her goals, had tremendous courage and believed strongly that the visions she received were messages from God. Elizabeth Cobbs portrays her as a character with these traits, but also shows us her vulnerable side as a woman who wanted a relationship with a man.  Her Tubman seemed wary of trusting men on an intimate level.  Based on what I read about her in She Came To Slay, I think she had good reason to be untrusting.

A romantic possibility for Tubman is a sub-plot in The Tubman Command, but it isn't a major focus of the narrative. So I wouldn't call this a romance.  It's mainly about a historic military operation that resulted in the rescue of 750 slaves.

The quote from Harriet Tubman in the title of this review is a fictional one from this novel.  Harriet Tubman was illiterate.  So she herself wrote no accounts of her life.  

The Combahee River Raid was made possible because of Harriet Tubman's status as the leader of a team of Black scouts for the Union Army.  The Tubman Command shows how Tubman persuaded the officers involved in decision making to support her plan.  I felt that there was a great deal of suspense involved in its implementation even though I already knew the result.

In the midst of  all this drama, there was also comic relief in the form of an unexpectedly funny scene involving the antics of Tubman's cat, who was appropriately named Trouble. I was charmed by this scene and was glad it was there.

The fictional elements of The Tubman Command didn't cause me to lose confidence in Cobbs' accuracy.  There is a back cover blurb praising this book from Edda L. Fields-Black, an African American academic who has been working on a scholarly book about the Combahee River Raid that is forthcoming.

I found The Tubman Command moving, insightful and well-written.  I thought it was also original because I had never read a novel dealing with this significant event. This is my first five star read of 2020.  It will certainly be a candidate for my top ten of the year.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Silhouette of a Sparrow: YA Lesbian Historical Novel About Following Dreams

I don't know what led me to Silhouette of a Sparrow, the only YA novel by children's fiction writer, Molly Beth Griffin. It is a book that I needed to read.  So whatever the source was, I'm grateful to have discovered it.


I must have been drawn to this book by the cover which is quite extraordinary resembling some prehistorical image of a bird woman rooted in nature.  Then I must have read the description which identified it as taking place in the Roaring 1920's, a favorite period of mine which began exactly a hundred years ago.  The fact that Garnet Richardson, the 16 year old female protagonist, loves birds and wants to become an ornithologist made the novel seem unusual and intriguing.  This aspect of the book also was appealing to me as someone who is concerned about the non-human species with which we share our planet.

It belongs on this blog because there are strong women who assist Garnet in recognizing that she has the right to claim a future for herself.

The most significant of these women is 18 year old Isabella, the courageous dance hall performer labeled as a "harlot".  Isabella knew that she had to dance, and that if she had to break society's rules to do that, so be it.

Other women who helped to change the way Garnet thought about her life were Miss Maple, her summer employer, and her unconventional Aunt Rachel who never actually appears in the narrative.  Both of them served as examples that caused Garnet to realize that a woman could choose not to marry.

This is also a lesbian romance, but not one with a traditional HEA ending. I felt that the relationship between Garnet and Isabella had emotional intensity despite its brevity.  Would they ever come back together?  It's a possibility.  The future of these fictional characters is unknown unless Molly Beth Griffin chooses to revisit their lives in another book. Without that sequel, Garnet and Isabella remain frozen for us at the point where the author left them behind in the summer of 1926.

The advantage of never advancing this narrative beyond 1926 is that Garnet can retain the optimism for which the Roaring Twenties are known in order to inspire other readers of Silhouette of a Sparrow as I have been.