Thursday, January 12, 2017

Women Exhibit All Kinds of Remarkable Bravery in The Alice Network @KateQuinnAuthor

The Alice NetworkAmazing. Just when I thought I'd read every type of WWII story out there..and I think I can no longer be surprised, I am. This novel is riveting, thrilling, suspenseful, heartwarming, and funny! I fell in love with the characters, felt what they were feeling, cheered and cried with them.

There's a 1947 heroine who is struggling with death. She has lost her brother and her family, rather than banding together, seems to drift further apart and Charlie gets herself into a bit of trouble... At first she comes across as a tad spineless but as the novel unfolds, going back and forth between Charlie in 47 and Eve in 1915...we see two women grow backbones and experience life. There are different levels of bravery in this novel, each one just as important as the last.

Bravery isn't just spying in enemy territory. It's also facing demons from your past, loving after you've been hurt, standing up to those who wish to control you, laughing in the face of evil, finding joy in a time of war. We learn from Lili as well as Eve and Charlie.

Terrific novel. I enjoyed traveling the French countryside with these women as well as experiencing their harrowing adventures. I think this book is a wonderful way to honor the women spies of both wars.

I won an ARC of this on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ghost Talkers: A Novel Depicting A Secret Paranormal Aspect of WWI

My reviews on this blog dealing with Madame Presidentess  about Victoria Woodhull  and The Witch of Napoli  here , show my interest in spiritualist mediums.  This is why I wanted to read and review Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.   The premise is that during WWI the British secretly utilized mediums to pass on information from recently dead soldiers to military authorities.  This is an extraordinary concept.  So I thought it would make for a highly unusual novel.


 Ghost Talkers reflects the world wide predominance of women among spirit mediums.  This doesn't mean that it's impossible for men to be mediums.   There actually are male mediums shown in this novel, but mediums are usually women.  The reasons are largely based on cultural traditions and gender stereotypes.   Mediums must be receptive to spirits. That ability to be receptive is a strength in the context of mediumship, not a weakness.  Gifted men must overcome the idea that receptivity is unmasculine in order to accept that they are mediums. 

Kowal presents mediumship as a way for women to play an important role in the war.   It was not the only role that women played in WWI. We know that women were nurses, ambulance drivers and espionage agents.  There were also woman pilots in WWI.   See  Inspirational Women of World War IGhost Talkers does include nurses, and Kowal prominently mentions ambulance drivers in her historical note.

The women in the British medium corps are presented  as strong individuals.  It's mentioned that some were Afro-Caribbean immigrants.  One Afro-Caribbean medium was a named minor character. Yet the main protagonist was Ginger Stuyvesant, an American whose mother was English.  I ended up respecting Ginger for her courage.   Her romance with British Captain Ben Hadford is very central to the plot, and her last scene with him was very moving.

I give this book an A for originality.  It may be a candidate for my favorite read of 2017, but it's much too early in the year to know that for certain.  It would be wonderful if Mary Robinette Kowal wrote further about the women of the medium corps.   


Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Orphan's Tale: A Novel About the Sisterhood We Choose

The Orphan's TaleI didn't know what to expect when I picked up this novel. "The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff." First of all, I thought The Nightingale was just okay and I didn't like WfE at all, but except for one novel about two sisters, Pam Jenoff's novels have been winners for me. And that is somewhat funny. In The Winter Guest, Jenoff wrote of two biological sisters who didn't get along well. In this novel, we meet two women who are not sisters, who only know each other not even a year, yet are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. It's the sisterhood of choice...

And it was thoroughly engrossing. I loved it. I loved meeting two strong-minded women determined to fight the Nazis in what little ways they can. Astrid, a Jew, chooses to hide in plain sight, on the trapeze! Right in front of their faces.. That's sticking it to them! Noa fights back in a not-so-in-your-face-way by rescuing a Jewish baby. In a time of war and terror, each woman finds love and lets their formerly-hurt selves love again.

The circus was interesting too. It didn't go crazy with details. I didn't learn about elephants and tigers, or even about the freak show, but I did learn about flying acrobats, the traveling town to town, the way they pitched the big top. (I'd love to see that)

I enjoyed the friendship and bond the girls developed. Even though distrust reared its ugly head at times, they bonded and looked out for each other and the rest of the circus.

What I didn't like was the sudden romance with Luc. It came abruptly and too fast to be believable. I also didn't like that in the last quarter, it's like both girls lose their blooming minds. Noa loses her marbles over Luc and Astrid loses it over Peter. Astrid and Peter, I could understand, but screaming that you're a Jew and letting yourself be kicked where it matters...really? What the heck is wrong with you? All of a sudden, two intelligent girls both lost their minds.

But the fact I got mad enough at them to scream and nearly throw the book shows how deeply I cared and that's the sign of good, engaging writing.

If you're tired of the traditional WWII check this one out.

I got this via Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Margaret Sanger: Champion of Women in Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Terrible Virtue"A woman's duty: To look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, to have an ideal, to speak and act in defiance of convention."

And that is what Margaret Sanger did. She looked everyone in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, and she spoken and acted in defiance of convention. Having watched her mother die older before her time, having raised 13 children, lost about 5, Margaret both loved and hated her mother. She loved her mother yet was disgusted with what her mother was, with what she let herself be: a broodmare...a baby incubator.

This novel is told in the first person, as though Margaret is looking back on her years and her life, her goals, trials, losses, loves. Personally, I loved it. First-person writing can make or break a book. In this case, it worked. The writing was engrossing; the memories were vivid. I never felt as though they were being narrated to me, but that I was living them myself.

I went with her from being called a devil's child and falling over her feet in the woods to her first marriage and the birth of her three children and the battles she fought inside herself between what she should want (what society told her she should want...a loving husband, a nice house, three adorable children) and what she really wanted (free love with whomever she pleased, a basic place in the middle of artists and socialists, and her main child: the birth control movement.

She takes on lovers and never hides who she is. She neglects her children for her one great passion. In her mind, it's better to deprive three than to let thousands of women and unwanted children everywhere suffer. And yet, she suffers herself later.

And was she a Nazi? No. We find later in the novel how that accusation came to pass and that it was a misunderstanding, a twisting of events, a misinterpretation.

I learned so much about this woman, this champion of all women. The only thing I didn't like about the novel was how vague it was about early contraception. Up until 65%, Margaret kept preaching the importance of family limitation yet didn't really offer a solution for it. This came later, after her Europe travels...but in the meantime, like all the women writing her desperate letters, I kept wondering, "What exactly are you wanting the women to do?? French letters are not affordable."

But eventually she got there, with her little possets, or womb veils. And she went to jail, albeit briefly, for her beliefs...and her sister was never the same, as she went to jail too and had a hunger strike.

But she got there...and as a result, ladies, we got there. Us modern women have the means as well the right to choose.

We can thank Margaret for that. I highly recommend reading this novel.

I purchased it via Amazon.