Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chinawoman's Chance: First In A Series About A Pioneering Woman Lawyer

When I nominated Chinawoman's Chance on Kindle Scout for an opportunity to be published by Kindle Press, I hadn't heard of its real historical protagonist Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first woman admitted to the bar in California in 1884.   This historical mystery novel wasn't selected by Amazon.  So author James Musgrave self-published and offered all those who had nominated his book a free copy.  I eagerly accepted one, and I am now posting my honest review.


My original intention was to praise this cover's illustrations for drawing my attention to the book.  Yet when I copied and pasted the cover to this blog, I noticed for the first time that the title isn't very legible.  If I hadn't already known that the title was Chinawoman's Chance, I wouldn't have learned it from this cover.   Is the legibility of the title on the cover important for a self-published book?  I would argue that it is important. Readers often look at the cover before anything else on a  book vendor site.  Not being able to read the title creates a bad first impression for a reader deciding whether or not to buy the book.

Next I turn to the series title which is Portia of the Pacific. Yes, titles are very important to me.  They influence me more than cover illustrations.   I have an attraction/repulsion relationship with Shakespeare's Portia.   So  I was attracted by the series title because I love a woman taking a professional role that was forbidden to women in Shakespeare's day.  I love Portia's speech.  Yet  I am repelled by the bigotry toward Shylock that motivated her.  I see Shylock as the victim in Merchant of Venice.   His feelings of outrage over having no rights are used against him.  Portia is clever, but she is supporting a system in which Jews can't get justice.

 The fictional Clara Shortridge Foltz isn't bigoted toward the Chinese.   Not only does she have a Chinese client,  but she helps to thwart a plot against the Chinese community. Yet I learned from Musgrave's acknowledgements that the real Clara Foltz was actually prejudiced against the Chinese and would never have had a Chinese client as she did in Chinawoman's Chance. For me, there is a tension between the real Clara and the fictional Clara.  I ended up feeling as ambivalently toward the protagonist as I do toward Shakespeare's Portia.  

For those who want to see what Clara Shortridge Foltz looked like, I found a public domain photo on Wikipedia.

I admired the role played by the fictional Clara Foltz, but I felt that the novel fell short as a mystery.  There was a plot twist that I didn't find credible from a police procedural perspective.   I also felt that the resolution was formulaic.  I had seen it before a number of times, so it didn't surprise me.

I also had a problem with a Chinese character's name.  Musgrave said in his acknowledgements that he researched Chinese culture.  If so, I don't understand why he didn't seem to know that Guan Shi Yin, also known as Kwan Yin, is a Bodhisattva.  A Bodhisattva is someone who has reached Buddhist enlightenment and decided to help others achieve it.   Kwan Yin is also known as the Goddess of Compassion.  I was taught a mantra for Kwan Yin "Namo Guan Shi Yin pusa."  The English translation would be: Homage to Kwan Yin, compassionate and wise person.  The character in Chinawoman's Chance who was given this name was the reverse of compassionate.   I therefore considered it culturally inappropriate.

I actually did like most of  Chinawoman's Chance. Musgrave's version of Clara Foltz  has so much potential as a protagonist. Her developing friendship with a Chinese woman who escaped prostitution and encouraged independence for other women was also wonderful.   Yet as a mystery it didn't quite measure up, and the instance of cultural inauthenticity that I mentioned really bothered me.



Sunday, February 11, 2018

Aurelia: Serving Roma Nova in the 1960's

I have reviewed three of the alternate history Roma Nova books by Alison Morton on this blog.  The titles are linked to their reviews.  They were Inceptio, Perfiditas and Carina.  All three feature Carina Mitela as the protagonist.  With Aurelia , I begin a prequel trilogy taking place in the 20th century and centering on Carina's grandmother, Aurelia Mitela.  I liked what I saw of Aurelia in Carina's books.  So I was happy to receive the first book focusing on her as a gift from the author via Book Funnel, and this is my honest review.


When I compare the two protagonists in the Roma Nova series, I have to say that I prefer Aurelia.   I feel that Aurelia is more level headed, and that she has better judgment than Carina.

 I saw a review of this novel on Goodreads that questions Aurelia's romantic judgment.  Frankly, I thought Aurelia's romantic judgment was much better than Carina's.   I won't get into specifics because those would be spoilers,  but I believe that your mate should be the person who you can always count on to stand by you.  Carina forgave far too much.  It seems to me that Aurelia was able to put her life in perspective when it came to romance, and made a decision that was healthier for her in the long run.

Another major difference between Aurelia and Carina is that Aurelia necessarily had a more powerful support system because she was born into a privileged position in Roma Nova.   She didn't have to learn the ropes. She didn't have to try to fit into a culture that was alien to her as Carina did when she unexpectedly had to start a new life in Roma Nova.  It's a good thing that Carina is so adaptable because she needed that flexibility.  She didn't have Aurelia's advantages.   She had to invent a support system of her own, though Aurelia herself was always someone she could rely on.  In a crisis, Carina transforms herself and finds new options, but Aurelia is as constant as the North Star.  I perceive both of them as strong women with differing approaches that were shaped by their experiences.

I was interested in the opportunity we had to explore a new setting in Aurelia.  Aurelia was sent to Prussia on an assignment that was ostensibly diplomatic, but really involved the collection of intelligence.  In the Roma Nova alternate continuity, Germany was partitioned into a number of sovereign nations in the aftermath of the Great War.  Prussia was one of them. This was apparently a lasting solution to the threat of German militarism. There was no World War II.

In Prussia, Aurelia was faced for the first time with institutionalized sexism.  Respectable Prussian women were restricted to the domestic sphere.  Prussian men seemed incapable of understanding the matriarchal culture of Roma Nova.  I wondered if attitudes in Prussia might have changed over time.  Would Carina have been met with the same uncomprehending prejudice if she visited Prussia in the 21st century in the course of her duties?

I look forward to continuing to explore the differences between the way Carina responded to situations, and how Aurelia reacted to similar circumstances in the two remaining books of the Aurelia trilogy.