Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Steep and Thorny Way: Something Was Rotten in the State of Oregon

I liked the last two Cat Winters books, The Cure For Dreaming and The Uninvited.  When I discovered that she had written a new YA novel with a bi-racial protagonist, I was intrigued and wanted to find out if she could pull it off.

 I know that one of the reasons why African Americans object to POC characters as protagonists in novels written by Caucasian writers like Cat Winters is that it leads to books by African American writers being ignored.  The more visible and successful Caucasian writers get to dominate the market with their portrayals of African American life.  Although some African American authors do get contracts from traditional publishers, there aren't as many as there should be.  I really do recognize that as a problem.

I want readers to be aware that I do read and review African American writers.  Maybe not as often as I should.   Yet I can say that in 2015 I read and reviewed Hurricane and Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett and Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez on this blog.  I don't feel that I'm privileging books about African Americans written by Caucasians.   In fact, The Steep and Thorny Way is one of the few that  I've read in this category.


So I saw that someone on Goodreads was asking whether this book is racist.   Please note that I saw no one asking if the YA novel Soundless by Richelle Mead is racist or anti-deaf because she writes about a Chinese deaf village when she is neither Chinese nor deaf.   While I can't vouch for the cultural authenticity of either this novel or Richelle Mead's, I can speak about the impact they had on me.  I felt that that Richelle Mead's book strongly condemns prejudice against the deaf, and I felt that Cat Winters was strongly condemning racism.

In fact, it seems to me that framing a narrative about a bi-racial girl trying to get justice for the death of her African American father as a Hamlet re-telling implies that her story is just as significant as the one that Shakespeare was telling in Hamlet.   It's saying that her readers should sit up and take notice because something having been rotten in the state of Oregon is as important as something having been rotten in the state of Denmark.   And the rot in Oregon in 1923 was that prejudice was king. 

Is this a good Hamlet re-telling?  Well, re-tellings come in a variety of flavors.   Some are closer to the original version than others.   Some are very creative in their approach to re-telling.  The Steep and Thorny Way is an example of a creative re-telling.  For one thing, it appeared to me that there were two Hamlets with each fighting for the justice of their separate causes.   Hanalee was one, but  I thought that Joe Adder was also a Hamlet. He too was struggling against prejudice.   So Hanalee doesn't need to fulfill all the aspects of the Hamlet role.  It's divided between her and Joe Adder.   I felt that there was similar doubling or even tripling of other roles in Hamlet among the characters in this novel. For example,  I think there were actually three Ophelias.  They were recognizable by what they did or what happened to them that paralleled the characters and events in Shakespeare's play.   The re-telling aspect is complex.  Most people will conclude that it doesn't work as a re-telling.  I disagree.  I think it's a very good re-telling.

Finally, Hanalee is a strong female protagonist.  She is very independent.  She refuses to be confined by conventional expectations.    She wants to marry anyone she chooses regardless of race which she couldn't do legally in Oregon at that point.  She wants a good education so that she could become a lawyer.  She carries a pistol and is a very good shot.  This is why The Steep and Thorny Way qualifies for this blog.





Saturday, May 28, 2016

@FionaJDavis Delivers Scandal, Secrets, Heartache, and a Strong Feminine Lesson

The Dollhouse: A NovelI've come to a point in my life in which I've read it all and everything is beginning to seem like a retelling of another story I read. So it's not often anymore that I pick up a novel and devour it in a day, find myself just dying to know what happens next, getting completely engrossed in another life and time.

This book did it.

It's fantabulous, a fantabulous, well written blend of scandal, secrets, heartache, and missed opportunities revisited, with a strong feminine lesson. You don't NEED a man. You only need gumption, girl. And courage. If you WANT a man, then by all means, have one, but don't feel you should/must have one.

The story goes back and forth between a modern-day journalist living in the old Barbazon hotel for women turned condos and a small-town girl from the midwest in 1952, also residing in the Barazon. Each woman is facing similar problems in different scenarios, be it their careers or love lives, also family obligations.

I liked both stories. My favorite part about the past story was experiencing life at the Barbazon during that time, the fashion shows on the 18th floor, the girls sneaking their fellows in the stairways, etc. And the clothing descriptions, as I'm a vintage clothing fan. The modern story, I appreciated how the heroine very slowly learned that being without a man was okay, that there was no need to destroy herself and bypass what she wanted in order to have one.  I loved watching this heroine evolve with each new revelation she discovered about the past heroine.

I also appreciated that I couldn't and didn't figure everything out by page ten. Far from it. I was just as surprised by the conclusion as the heroine herself.

And this book has it all: troublesome family, questionable friends, romance, scary moments, drugs, jazz singing, mean girls, fashion....

I highly recommend it.

I received an ARC via Amazon Vine.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Clear to Lift: A Novel

Clear to Lift: A NovelI would normally roll my eyes at a review that states, "Heart-pounding, edge-of-seat adventure."  But I'm going to say that. I am aware that is sounds cheesy and cliched, but in this case, it's true. As I read the final rescue scene in this novel, my heart was pounding and I was on the edge of my seat, literally. When I closed the final page and looked at my coworker (I finished reading this on a work break), I actually said, "A woman who saves the day! Exactly my kind of read!" (I was actually more specific in my quote, but to reveal more would be spoilers.)

It's Fallon Navy Base, a woman helicopter pilot doing SARS and bomb clean up and checking into F-18 crashes. It's amazing stuff. I wasn't aware until recently that there was a Navy base in the desert. I was intrigued by life on this base, wish there was more of it, such as the heroine's F-18 ride. More, more, more! I didn't like the casual reveal of that in the middle of the story. I wanted the details.

This woman has more going on than helicopter flying though as she navigates not only the peaks of the Sierra Nevada but the emotions of her heart as she questions her romantic choices and what makes her happy and comes to terms with past abandonment.

The writing is top notch, the story smooth, the action intense. My only quibble is that I felt as though I was thrown into this woman's life all of a sudden. There were lots of things in her past relevant to the tale or that I wanted more of, such as the F18 ride. Basically, I wanted more of this story, this heroine. I would have liked it to have gone a bit more, instead of starting with her at Fallon.

Terrific tale. I cannot wait to see what this author writes next.

Girl power!

I received this from the author, no strings attached.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

I love books that focus on artists, and have always been fascinated with the 17th century Dutch Masters.  Their work always seemed to be telling me stories about people's lives.  When I lived in New York, I felt privileged to be able to look at the Vermeer painting, "Girl Asleep" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I mention this because Dominic Smith, the author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, placed a condition on winning a copy of this book on Authorbuzz.  He wanted readers to e-mail him about a 17th century Dutch painting. So I won my copy  by posting him a message regarding "Girl Asleep" and my experience of the painting.   This means that I must mention that I got the book for free from the author, yet this is still an honest review.


At the time when I was a teen obsessing about the Vermeer work mentioned above, I didn't know that there were woman painters in 17th century Holland.  Sara de Vos in Smith's novel is a fictional character, but there were real female 17th century Dutch Masters.  The best known is probably Judith Leyster. The Wikipedia article about her that I've linked contained a self portrait of Leyster that I can reproduce below because it's public domain.


I don't imagine that Leyster normally wore a ruff when she was painting because it would have gotten spattered with paint.  The fictional 17th century painter, Sara de Vos,  wouldn't have dressed that way either when she was working.    This self portrait represents how Judith Leyster wanted to be viewed. She dressed formally in order to gain respect.

 The Last Painting of Sara de Vos deals with women in the art world needing to be respected.  There were two female protagonists.   In addition to Sara de Vos, there was the contemporary art historian and curator, Ellie Shipley.   Ellie was hiding a crime that she committed when she was a poor struggling art history student during the 1950's.  Sara de Vos was also impoverished, and violated the regulations of her art guild.   Poor individuals may be forced to earn money in ways that society condemns.   If they become more prosperous, they have the luxury of becoming more circumspect,  but the past still haunts them.

It seems to me that Ellie felt a kinship with Sara de Vos, and that this was why she included Sara in her doctoral dissertation on Dutch woman painters of the 17th century even though this artist had only one authenticated surviving work at the time.  Ellie wanted to be Sara de Vos.  Ellie's advisor  thought Ellie should scrap her chapter on Sara de Vos saying "If Dickens had written a single book none of us would know his name."   I disagree and I'm pretty sure that Ellie did too.  There are some writers who are only known for one work that has echoed down the ages.  For example,  Miguel de Cervantes is only known for Don Quixote.  More recently,  Harper Lee may have written two books, but her reputation was built on only one.  I think that if Dickens had only written A Tale of Two Cities, we would still have remembered him.  The work by Sara de Vos is portrayed memorably in Smith's novel.  When I wish I could see a painting by a fictional artist, I know the author has done an excellent job of ushering the reader into the world of the character's creation.

Marty de Groot, the contemporary owner of the Sara de Vos painting that is the main focus of the narrative, was unsympathetic for a large portion of the novel. Another author would have allowed him to become a caricature, but Dominic Smith develops him so that he has dimension.  I didn't identify with Marty de Groot as I did with Ellie Shipley, but ultimately I felt that he was trying to be a decent human being.

I read a review of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos on Goodreads which said that "nothing happened in the end".   That reviewer meant that there wasn't a big dramatic blow up over Ellie Shipley's crime.  Yet I felt that there was satisfying karmic balance even though it wasn't conventional justice.