Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesI found this story well-written and surprisingly, unpredictable. I was surprised because it was nothing like the many Japanese-internment-during-WWII stories I've read thus far and I've read quite a few. I feared it would be a regurgitated tale that I'd already read, but first of all, the combination of a Japanese man with a Caucasian woman was unique, as was the story of the heroine learning her husband's culture, the sideline of her brother dealing with his hatred issues, and the shocking twist about her husband in the end... Perhaps individually, the stories may not be considered unique, but combined in this book, they are.

Never a dull moment.

I had some trouble with the heroine, Maddie, at times. I felt like she was a woman way too eager to throw everything away for a man, though part of me also realized times were strife and options were few when this book starts, right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People acted rashly during this time, aware they didn't have long to follow their hearts and fulfill their desires. BUT I must confess I didn't feel she loved her husband as much as she continued to claim. Her reluctance to wear her wedding band, her fears of having a "half-breed" child kinda made me feel conflicted about her.

Is it brave or stupid that she gives up Julliard to follow her husband into a camp? If I felt it was really true love, I'd think it brave.

Lane...Lane is the bravest of all the characters. Lane is her husband and he risks and does so much for his family's honor, for his reputation, to gain his country's trust, to save Maddie's brother--a man I didn't feel warranted saving. I enjoyed his bits and this surprised me as I don't normally care for male characters as much.

I had some trouble with the brother. He's rough and unlikable and joins the service for less-than-stellar reasons. But his story is important. It shows what carrying around hatred and bitterness for a long time can do to a person. Through his eyes we see the brutalities committed against American POWs. And it's nice to watch him change as a person. Everything happens for a reason, hm...

So much to learn about in this novel: the treatment of Japanese on the west coast, internment camp life, POW life, how it was for a Japanese man in the American army, some Japanese customs and ways...

Despite the fact I didn't like the brother or even the heroine at times, I was very engrossed in this story and walk away from it more enlightened than I was before.

But dang it, I have to say...I'm terribly disappointed there wasn't more about Jo. Jo becomes a lady baseball player and I get we have a movie about it (A League of Their Own)...but I've been searching high and low for a good novel about the ladies or even just a woman who did this during the war. The book gave a LOT of what Maddie, Lane, and TJ were going through, but Jo was only mentioned as TJ's possible girlfriend. I feel there was potential there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra

Sapphire SkiesLately, I've been picking up a lot of books featuring women pilots and have found myself disappointed at the lack of aviation/flying. Though SS is about a woman pilot, inspired by Lydia Litvyak, the aviation scenes are few, but the story is not lacking in any way. There's never a dull moment and there is so much going on...and I have set this book down more knowledgeable about Russian history, about Stalin, about the arctic prisons, than ever before. And while there is more of this other stuff than actual aviation, the aviation is well done and exciting and I have no complaints.

Basically, it just worked.

We have not one, but two incredible heroines--actually three. We have the modern-day Lily who is recovering from a tragic loss and has this thing for saving stray cats. But what is really remarkable about her is her compassion for others. Despite the grief afflicting her, she has room in her heart and enough love in her soul to help an old lady, a perfect stranger. The historical story is about Natalia, how she grows up in Stalin's Russia and becomes a fighter pilot during the Great Patriotic War. (We call it WWII). Through her eyes we see what everyday life was like during this time--the fear, the arrests, the paranoia, the backstabbing, the subway tunnels, the brainwashing, the scarcity of supplies. This was probably my favorite thing and I learned so much from this story.

Lydia Litvyak
There's a lot of political corruption, a lot of lies, and we get to visit those arctic prisons I mentioned above, something that I've only heard about vaguely yet now know so much more about.

The third remarkable woman is Sveltana, Natalia's aircraft mechanic. She's loyal and wishes to atone for a sin. She goes above and beyond...

There's also a romance, but while it's passionate and paced wonderfully--not too fast, not too slow--it does not overshadow the importance of the issues within the story. We don't have a heroine here whose sole goal in life is just to find a man and fall in love. There is SO MUCH MORE. I can't stress that enough. (I want to thank my blogging partner Shomeret for coming up with that line in italics. It's something she said to me this last week regarding a different book altogether and the line stuck in my head.)

Now, the writing flows seamlessly from past to present to past, from POV to POV without issues. I had no difficulty telling who was who or even what time period I was in. The writing itself also transported me to another time and place. I couldn't even sleep while reading this book. I'd turn off my kindle and say, "Okay. Bed time," and twenty minutes later, I'd say, "Screw it. I'm gonna read some more."

My only complaint...I don't really see what the cats had to do with anything. A lot of the story was devoted to cats and I couldn't see how that tied in. I really don't see how the modern-day heroine tied in with the fighter pilot either, but I liked her story regardless.

He simply asked if I didn't think the brooch was too precious to take into combat. I answered him, "I'm precious and I'm going into combat!"

I bought this book on Amazon Kindle. Photos are from Wiki Commons.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Through Deaf Eyes, A Straightforward Look At Deaf Culture

PBS had a sale, and I bought this DVD. Naturally it's something I would take a strong interest in. I really some of the points brought up and some of the stories told. The documentary is a lot of different deaf people talking, and some Deaf-produced films. Some of the deaf people use sign language, some are "oral" successes, some have cochlear implants.

The theme is the same though: they are happy being deaf or have learned to live with it. As one man says, "It's no different than being a man instead of a woman, being short instead of tall..."

Don't try to fix us.

I appreciated many aspects of this film. I especially like how it talked about cochlear implants and how though a great device for some, it does have its disadvantages. It kills all the auditory nerves in your ear, making the receiver unable to hear unless they are wearing the implant. *This film was released in 2007, and perhaps this has since changed, but I know was warned by my audiologist about the possible loss of what I had left should I pursue this option myself.*

Different things I learned from this film:

Thomas Hopkins Galludet was responsible for the first school for the deaf in the U.S. The reason: he wanted to teach deaf people the word of god. He brought over a French teacher with his French sign language, who then adjusted the language to some of the signs already being used in the United States and thus, ASL was born.

Alexander Graham Bell was a very controversial figure in deaf culture. Not deaf himself, but married to a deaf woman, he had very strong opinions. I can see his point on some issues, though I feel trying to eliminate flaws in the human race through proper breeding is a bit much. Without our "flaws" we'd all be the same and that's boring. We wouldn't be who we are, some of us, without our "flaws".

He felt that the deaf should be forced to lip read and speak, not grow dependent on signs and thus cut themselves off from the hearing world.

But...but as a lady points out in this documentary, we then end up spending so much time just learning to talk and lip-read that we don't focus as much as basic education or I should say, advanced education. And lip-reading is EXHAUSTING.

I have to agree with BOTH AGB and the lady. Had I learned solely Sign Language, I would not have had some of the jobs I've had, I'd not have been able to communicate with family members at all. I'd be shut off from just about everyone I know, so for me lip-reading was the path, but it is indeed exhausting and I do feel...not entirely immersed in either world. But I feel this documentary did explore the variety of choices and in the end, it's not up to AGB or the lady. It's up to the deaf person what path they wish to pursue.

We also meet some people who interact in both worlds.

This briefly touches on the silent film and how it was a disappointing transition for deaf people when sound was introduced as it was a long time before captioning came to be.

The football huddle you see today...was created by deaf players.

An old TTY, 70s model?
Surprising and interesting to me is also the fact that folks used to believe that aviation could possibly cure deafness...and Charles Lindbergh himself charged 50 bucks a "deaf flight" but there of course, was no recorded cures.

“They would charter a plane, bring the deaf boy in the cockpit. The plane would take off and do loops, hoping the boy would get his hearing back again.”
It took 90 years from the inventing of the telephone for TTY to be introduced, allowing us to communicate that way. And this is all thanks to a man named Robert Weitbrecht, a reclusive deaf man who loved dogs. With two other people, he set up a teletypewriter and a modem and made the clicking of a key transmit a sound that upon reaching its destination would transfer back to a letter.

This is very cool to me. It took a while for this invention to catch on and become what you see in the picture above because teletypewriters were hard to come by and weighed 200 pounds.

And it comes as no surprise to me, the revelation that the Civil Service passed a law in 1906 saying they would no longer deaf or HoH people... Though turned over two years later, I know from personal experience the seed that was planted did indeed grow into a tree. Hum.

Very interesting documentary, though I could have done without some of the "films" and especially the weird performance about the bucket....I have no idea what was going on there. But I'm simply not that artistic. I don't "get" the ballet either.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Reading Radar 4/27/2014

Over the last few weeks, I spotted TWO titles on one of my favorite blogs, Reading the Past. They are both on my wishlist.

The Tiger QueensThe Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton. In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph....

After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed.

Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within.

In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family...and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls.


Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early AmericaFlight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown. Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1676. Even before Mary Rowlandson is captured by Indians on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the on-going bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. All her life, Mary has been taught to fear God, submit to her husband, and abhor Indians. Now, having lived on the other side of the forest, she begins to question the edicts that have guided her, torn between the life she knew and the wisdom the natives have shown her.

Based on the compelling true narrative of Mary Rowlandson, Flight of the Sparrow is an evocative tale that transports the reader to a little-known time in early America and explores the real meaning of freedom, faith, and acceptance.


The President's LunchSpotted on Netgalley and on my doesn't appear to be available in the States. *cries* The President's Lunch by Jenny Bond.

Robbed of her home and job by the Great Depression, the future looks bleak for Iris McIntosh - until a chance encounter with America's indefatigable First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Propelled into the White House's brilliant inner circle, Iris finds herself at the centre of momentous change ... and her heart torn between two men. But her loyalty lies with a third: the complicated and charismatic President Roosevelt, who will ultimately force her to question everything she believes in.

A compelling story of politics and power, love and loss, set in one of the most exciting and cataclysmic periods of history.


Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient EgyptDaughter of the Gods, another one by Stephanie Thornton, is on my wishlist after I spotted it on a friend's blog. I really need to read this author. It looks like her stuff is right up my alley.

Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt...and sets her on a profoundly changed course.

Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Horus Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew.

Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall....


The Last Queen of IndiaSpotted on Goodreads while browsing. I've really liked a MM and really disliked a MM but that's not going to deter me from trying this: The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran. It could go either way. I loved her Nefertiti, wasn't crazy about Cleopatra. Anyway, read the blurb and you'll see why this hit my wishlist.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men. In the tradition of her bestselling novel Nefertiti, which Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, called “a heroic story with a very human heart,” Michelle Moran once again brings a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction to rich, vibrant life.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Mary Rowen

Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote Leaving the Beach, a women's fiction. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

For those wondering, here's the BLURB for Leaving the Beach. Mary is going to tell us more about it below.

Written with heart and keen observation about the day-to-day struggles of a “functioning bulimic,” Leaving the Beach explores the power of fantasy, then shoves it up against harsh reality until something has to give in this women’s novel set on the sandy beaches of Winthrop, Massachusetts.

Meet Erin Reardon, a lonely bulimic woman who believes she’s fated to save grunge music superstar Lenny Weir. Forget the fact that Lenny reportedly killed himself several years earlier; Erin’s not the only fan to believe his death was a hoax, a last-ditch effort by the drug-addled musician to reclaim his privacy. And Erin has felt a special bond with Lenny for years. So when she gets picked up hitchhiking by a mysterious man who resembles Lenny physically, she makes some quick assumptions. After all, he has extensive knowledge of the music industry, there’s a guitar in his trunk, and he has issues with drugs. She’s finally about to fulfill her destiny…

Mary: Thank you, Tara, for having me! The short answer is that Leaving the Beach is about a bulimic woman who’s obsessed with music, and I’m a huge music fan who was bulimic for fifteen years. So I really wanted to write a story that featured a character with an eating disorder. However, I don’t consider Leaving the Beach to be an “issue” story, as the eating disorder is only part of the character’s personality. There’s a longer answer too, and if you’re interested, feel free to check out my blog post about the night the story was conceived. It’s a little sad and a little romantic.

Tara: We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine strong.

Mary: Erin Reardon, my heroine, needs to find her inner strength; this is one of the story’s main themes. We see glimpses of it in almost every chapter, but her fears and insecurities are very powerful too.

Tara: Inner strength is so important, more important than physical. Do you see any of yourself in her?

Mary: Yes, because of my history with eating disorders and passion for music. But Erin isn’t me. Her life and adventures are all hers.

Tara: What makes her sexy?

Mary: At the beginning of the story, Erin doesn’t feel sexy, physically or otherwise. Again, that’s all about her insecurities. As the story progresses, however, her sexuality becomes more apparent to the people around her. She’s an attractive, curvy woman, but none of that matters until she begins to feel more confident in herself.

Steven Van Zandt, from Wiki Commons
Tara: What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search?

Mary: Well, since most of the story is set in Winthrop, Massachusetts—a town where I lived for about ten years after college—I did a lot of research on it. I was very surprised to learn that Sylvia Plath had once lived there, as did Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt, the actor and musician).

Tara: What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something, ponder a point? 

Mary: Honestly, when I started it, I hoped it’d be a compelling story about a woman faced with many challenges who overcomes at least some of them. But as I was writing, I also realized that it might be helpful to people with eating disorders. And some people have told me it’s taught them a lot about bulimia. So I guess maybe people will take different things from it.

Tara: Now let’s talk about your hero. What draws the heroine to him? Is he based on a real man in your life by any chance?

Mary: That’s a tough question because the hero is…well, let me just say that he’s hard to define. Certainly he’s very flawed, but he’s sweet at the core. I guess he’s a combination of people I’ve known. The heroine is drawn to him initially because of his kindness, and later because she finds out he’s a musician. She’s a sucker for musicians.

Tara: Your book takes place in Winthrop, MA. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this town?

Mary: Winthrop, Massachusetts is a unique and terrific little town for a bunch of reasons. To me, the most amazing thing is that it’s surrounded by ocean on three sides and right outside Boston, but you can still buy a home there for a reasonable price. In the book, I speculate on how the people of Winthrop work hard to keep the yuppies out, because they don’t want to be priced out of their homes. It’s also not the easiest place in the world to access because of its location. If you go there, you should definitely check out the beaches. They’re beautiful in an urban way, and because the town is right next to Logan Airport, planes are often flying right over you—sometimes you feel like you can reach up and touch them—as you soak up the sun.

Tara: Oooh. What lovely pictures. I love planes and lighthouses. Sounds perfect to me. For some reason I never pictured Mass as having a beach. Too far north, maybe? Very cool. Now, a more personal question. What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Mary: Oh wow. Major shift in the conversation! My main goal—and I know this is a cliché—is to be a good person. To try and change things for the better, even if it’s only in the smallest way. In my case, that means trying to be the best wife, parent, daughter, sister, friend, and co-worker I can be to the people I’m so lucky to have in my life.

Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

Mary: Yes! I’m a crazy animal lover. As soon as I was old enough to get my own apartment, I got a cat, and haven’t been without at least one pet since then.

Currently, my family has a dog named Spencer and two cats, Mac and Jack. Sadly, Mac is sick these days, with heart and kidney disease.
He’s sixteen-and-a-half years old and still very feisty, but the vet has warned us that his health concerns are quite serious, and he probably won’t be with us much longer. So we’re just thankful for each day that he wakes us up howling for breakfast. Our younger cat is named Jack and he’s sweet, adorable, and feisty as well. He has only one eye—it had to be removed before we got him because he was rescued in an alley with a terrible infection—but he gets around just fine and doesn’t seem to know that he’s any different than two-eyed cats.

Spencer the dog is the newest addition to our family. We got him last spring, after he’d been a stray in the woods of South Carolina for at least a year, so he’s got a lot of wild in him. However, he’s calming down, and we’ve worked with a couple of trainers who’ve helped us understand his fears. He’s still quite shy around people he doesn’t know, but he loves our family, and he’s super playful with other dogs. He’s also a crazy fast runner. We feel blessed to have such great animals in our lives. Thank you again for having me as a guest on your blog!

Tara: I've enjoyed having you. I hope your cat surprises the heck out of everybody and lives a lot longer than anyone expects. I know how hard it is to watch a pet be sick and not be able to do anything.


Mary Rowen is a Boston area mom with a wonderful family
that allows her time to write almost every day.
Leaving the Beach, although pure fiction, certainly
draws on some personal experience. As the tagline states,
it’s “a novel of obsession and music,” and
rock music has always been a driving force in Rowen’s
life. She was also bulimic for over fifteen years, and
really wanted to write a story with a bulimic main
character. Eating disorders are so complicated—and
dangerous—and she hopes Leaving the Beach
might encourage people suffering from them to seek
help. Visit Mary at:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Refuse To Forget: A Personalization of War's Devastation

Although Refuse to Forget by John Bishop is the story of 14 year old Harry Butler, I read it because I wanted to know more about Lady Hester who Harry followed to do ambulance duty in Belgium during World War I.  Was Lady Hester a courageous feminist or a thoughtless fool?  In the novel, she is widely regarded as a fool.  I had to ask myself how I felt about her actions.



I believe that there are just wars, but all the World War I novels that I’ve ever read have depicted it as a senseless waste that destroyed lives.  The Maisie Dobbs novel,   Birds of a Feather which I reviewed on The Unmasked Persona’s Reviews here  dealt with the concerted effort to denigrate people who were opposed to the war.  In Refuse to Forget, adolescent protagonist Harry Butler literally didn’t know any better. Due to the tide of wartime propaganda, he seemed to sincerely believe that anyone who didn't participate in the war was an inferior human being.

In my view, Lady Hester’s effort could have been motivated very differently.   Her ambulance can be seen as rescuing the victims of the war.  Quakers, whose faith is opposed to wars in general, have been involved in this sort of war service. Find out more in the Wikipedia article, The Friends' Ambulance Unit.  It’s important to point out, however, that the FAS was officially sanctioned while Lady Hester’s ambulance wasn’t sanctioned at all.  It’s clear to me that the reason why Lady Hester didn’t get official support was because of attitudes toward women during this period.   Feminism is definitely a sub-theme in this book.

I consider Refuse to Forget to be a sad commentary on World War I and the society that perpetuated it.  It is well-written and well-characterized.  I just wish that a woman like Lady Hester had been born into an environment where she could have accomplished something significant.  Perhaps John Bishop intends to tell his readers that World War I wasted the potential of both the men and women of that generation.  For me, he was preaching to the choir.  Yet I appreciated his message. 

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Strong is Sexy Heroine of the Week: Élan Duchamps

Book: Soul Cutter
Author: Lexa Cain
Heroine: Élan Duchamps

In the beginning of the novel, Soul Cutter, Élan Duchamps has everything in her life under control, and that’s just the way she likes it. With a group of high school friends, she secretly records fake mediums and psychics who trick their customers and steal their money. There’s nothing Élan hates more than people who take advantage of the weak and gullible. 

Tough beyond her years, Élan’s upbringing featured an absent father, a mother who abandoned her for Hollywood dreams, and a doting but addled grandma, all shaded by a tragic secret Élan hides from everyone:

Once, she trusted someone, and he almost killed her.

Now, no one can pass the walls she’s built around herself.

Life rarely goes as planned, and Élan finds herself in Egypt, facing something she never believed existed—a real supernatural killer. Although she’s terrified, she’s determined to save people from this deadly threat no matter what. But in order to do it, she’ll have to join forces with a guy who’s as used to being in control as she is.  Worse, she’ll have to learn to trust him, which for her is even harder than fighting a seven-foot, saber-wielding killer.

Élan is strong, sexy heroine because she never backs down from a challenge and because under her prickly exterior, she’s kind, protective, and brave. To discover how she outwits not just one killer but hundreds of them, and to see if she can pry her scarred heart open to let in a man who’d give his life for her, read Soul Cutter.

Soul CutterBlurb: 
The Soul Cutter is hunting again.

Seventeen-year-old Élan spends her free time videoing psychic scams and outing them online. Skepticism makes life safe—all the ghosts Élan encounters are fakes. When her estranged mother disappears from a film shoot in Egypt, Élan puts her medium-busting activities on hold and joins the search.

In Egypt, the superstitious film crew sucks at finding her mom. When a hotel guest is killed, whispers start—the locals think their legendary Soul Cutter has come back from the dead. Élan's only ally is Ramsey, a film-crew intern, but he’s arrogant, stubborn—and hiding dangerous secrets.

When Élan discovers the Soul Cutter is no scam, she finds herself locked in a deadly battle against a supernatural killer with more than her mother’s life at stake.

Élan's fighting for her very soul.