Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder Blog Tour and Review



Book Summary:

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant for Miss Brickett’s named Michelle White receives a letter warning her that a heinous act is about to occur. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect. 

Almost unwillingly, Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself being drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and mentor is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie—style locked-room mystery with an exciting new heroine detective at the helm.   


Shomeret's Review 


 I agreed to review Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder because it features underground tunnels underneath the city of London. I've been fascinated with urban underground existence ever since I first watched the Beauty & The Beast TV series starring Ron Perlman as the Beast and Linda Hamilton as the Beauty . In that series New York City had an underground secret society beneath its streets. Yet the underground investigative agency that Marion Lane becomes involved with is no utopian community like the one in that version of Beauty and the Beast. In fact, this mystery novel is for lovers of noir.


Instead of the protectiveness of Ron Perlman's Beast, we have a book in which an underground agency employee named Frank was suspected of murder by the investigative agency. Agency apprentice Marion Lane had to clear his name in order to prevent Frank from being confined to an underground cell for the remainder of his life. For me, Marion's loyalty to Frank redeems this book. Yet fans of dark fiction may be pleased by the threatening underground environment in which people got lost or killed.


The agency is concealing a terrifying secret that goes back to WWII. That actually wasn't that long ago in terms of the book's chronology since this novel opens in 1958. Unless Marion manages to discover that secret, she will never find out the truth about the murder. It really is a terrible secret. Once I found it out, I wished like Marion, that I didn't know about it. Maybe there should have been a sign on entering the agency's tunnels that said "ABANDON PEACE OF MIND YOU WHO ENTER HERE."


  Readers who love a dark tale of suspense will be electrified by Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder.



Author Bio: T.A. Willberg was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and holds a 

chiropractic masters degree from Durban University of Technology.

 MARION LANE AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDER is her debut novel and launch

 of her detective series. She currently lives in Malta with her partner.



T.A. Willberg photo by Oliver Wentzil




Author: T.A. Willberg

ISBN: 9780778389330

Publication Date: 12/29/20

Publisher: Harlequin / Park Row Books

Buy Links: 





Barnes & Noble 









Author's Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @Tess_Amy_

Facebook: @tawillberg

Instagram: @ta_willberg

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Chelsea Girls: 1950's Women in the Entertainment Industry vs. the McCarthy Era

I have wanted to read books by the author Fiona Davis, but didn't have the time due to all my review commitments. Then publicist Becky O'Dell representing the publisher of Davis' novel, The Chelsea Girls, approached me about reviewing it.  She asked me to post my review around  December 8th when their new paperback edition would be published.  I promised that the review would appear within the vicinity of that date on this blog, Flying High Reviews.  

My co-blogger Tara reviewed The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and called it "fantabulous" here when this blog was known as Book Babe. I hoped to follow her example. So I accepted a digital copy of The Chelsea Girls from Dutton Books via Net Galley. 

Below is the cover of the new edition of  The Chelsea Girls. I feel that it authentically depicts the women who are shown in this novel.  They were living in the 1950's but were doing their best to avoid being confined by that decade's expectations of women.


The Chelsea Girls has a particular focus on the blacklisting of individuals as  alleged Communists during the McCarthy Era.  I had read non-fiction about this issue as a teenager such as The Strange Case of  Alger Hiss by William Allen Jowitt.  I knew about the Hollywood Ten, a group of Hollywood writers who were accused of being Communists and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

I have never read any books about women accused of being Communists during this period, but I am now aware that playwright Lillian Hellman had actually been a member of the Communist Party and had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. Davis says in her Author's Note that the experience of The Chelsea Girls protagonist Hazel Ripley with HUAC was based on Lillian Hellman's.

Hazel was an actress and a playwright, but hadn't met with much success when she was blacklisted for attending an anti-fascist rally during WWII.  Like many of the accused in the McCarthy Era, there had been no real basis for Hazel being labeled a Communist.  

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (1953)  about women being falsely accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials as an indirect representation of the red-baiting that was going on during the McCarthy Era.

I was inspired by Hazel's courage when she faced HUAC.  I also liked the fact that she was vindicated in the end by the respect of her community.  History shows us that before the end of the 1950's America had rejected both Communism and McCarthyism.   The Chelsea Girls makes me feel optimistic about America's emergence from its current political crisis.





Friday, December 4, 2020

A Q & A With Art Historian and Historical Novelist Laura Morelli


Laura Morelli's assistant, Jacqueline M. Howard, suggested that I do a Q&A on Laura Morelli's two 2020 releases.  I have posted a review of  The Giant on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here .  This is a book dealing with Michelangelo's David. It's still the most viewed post of 2020 on that other blog.  I also posted a review of  The Night Portrait on this blog here .  This second 2020 novel focuses on the creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine and its later history during WWII.  After posting these reviews, I sent questions to Laura Morelli relating to each of these books.  Today she responded.  Because one of these reviews appeared on each of my blogs, I decided that the Q&A should be posted on both of them.   

Questions Related to The Giant


Question 1) In The Giant Michelangelo tells Jacopo that the Signorina of Florence wanted him to build a bronze replica of the David.  I did a search for bronze replica of Michelangelo's David and found that the bronze replica standing in Florence was designed by the architect Guiseppe Poggi in the 1860's.  I discovered that it was part of a much larger project devoted to Michelangelo called the Piazzale Michelangelo.  Wikipedia says that Florence was doing urban renewal at the time.  Can you tell us something about the art history aspect of Piazzale Michelangelo?  

        In THE GIANT, the bronze replica of the DAVID refers to a sculpture—now lost—that Michelangelo made for Duke Pierre de Rohan, a French nobleman in the royal circle. De Rohan had been smitten by Donatello’s DAVID, which he had seen in Florence in 1494, and he wanted Michelangelo to make a copy of it for him. Michelangelo tried to wave off the commission; he probably thought it insulting to copy another man’s work, especially when he was on the verge of finishing his own DAVID which, in one fell swoop, would make Donatello’s version seem an antiquated oddity. But Gonfaloniere Soderini pressed Michelangelo to do it.  
 De Rohan was a favorite of the French king and an avid art collector; nobles around Europe showered de Rohan with artistic treasures to gain favor with the French court. The Florentines, eager to gain the French king’s support in the wake of their own political upheavals, had already secured seven marble and two bronze statues for de Rohan. Now he was keen to have a copy of Donatello’s DAVID with the head of Goliath at the youth’s feet. Soderini didn’t want to deny him, so he pressed Michelangelo to take on the job.
  Michelangelo reluctantly agreed, and made a drawing that still exists. One year later the bronze sculpture was cast.  Ironically, by the time the sculpture was completed, the duke de Rohan had already fallen from the French king’s favor, and the sculpture passed into the hands of Florimond Robertet, who displayed it in his chateau in Bury. Later it moved to the castle of Villeroy, then seems to have disappeared forever. We will never know if it bore any resemblance to the colossal DAVID that was about to take Florence by storm.
The bronze replica of Michelangelo’s DAVID you refer to in the Piazzale Michelangelo was part of a 19th-century urban renewal plan in Florence. 
Question 2)  Your Master Class on The Giant revealed that Michelangelo wanted to do another giant marble sculpture in which he got to select his own marble.   Are there varieties of marble that are considered more suitable for sculpture, or did Michelangelo just want more control of his material?
Michelangelo was intimately familiar with the marble quarries near Carrara, in Tuscany, where he traveled to select raw materials for his famous Pietà and other sculptures. Every piece of Carrara marble was special and specific to each project. The block used for Michelangelo’s famous David had languished in the work yard of Florence cathedral for forty years before he tackled it. The master wrote that he dreamt of one day carving another colossus like the David—this time using an entire mountain of marble, a kind of Renaissance Mount Rushmore—that would overlook the sea.

Question 3) I read an article about the frequency of earthquakes in Italy during the 21st century and saw various items online about the vulnerability of Michelangelo's David to earthquakes due to weak ankles that could cause it to collapse.  Has a conservator ever been hired to repair those ankles?  There was also a 2014 proposal that the David be given an anti-seismic pedestal.  Has this ever happened?


Question 4) Will there be a sequel to The Giant devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling? 
Not at the moment, but in the future… Who knows? :)

Questions Related to The Night Portrait

Question 1)  Did Italian Renaissance artists other than Leonardo Da Vinci use their fingers for painting?  Was Leonardo influenced by someone else who used this technique or was it a practice that was unique to him?

I don’t believe this was unique to Leonardo da Vinci, though much has been made of Leonardo's fingerprints, which have been discovered on his paintings and drawings. For example: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/thumbprint-of-leonardo-da-vinci-discovered-on-drawing 

Question 2) The Night Portrait point of view character Dominic wonders how a solvent cleans a painting without damaging the paint.  That's a question that I'd like answered myself.
Professional conservators have many tools in their repertory to deal with things like this. However, cleaning an old master painting with solvent is extremely tricky! It's possible to remove overpainting from later centuries to reveal an artist’s original pigments underneath.

Question 3)  Why did you decide that Lucrezia Crivelli was the sitter for La Belle Ferroniere and that she resembled Cecilia very closely even though they were unrelated? There are those that argue that La Belle Ferroniere is a second portrait of Cecilia. Da Vinci could have created it from his sketches of Cecilia because she was no longer at Ludivico Sforza's court and was therefore unavailable.  Her unavailability could explain why the Cecilia in La Belle Ferroniere  isn't completely identical to the Cecilia depicted in Lady With An Ermine.  Do you think this is at all likely?



The identity of the woman in this beautiful portrait--the so-called Belle Ferronnière--remains contested. We know Leonardo completed the picture during his tenure at the ducal court of Milan. This portrait bears some things in common with the Lady with the Ermine; that’s for certain. Many art historians believe the portrait represents Lucrezia Crivelli, who became Ludovico Sforza’s mistress after Cecilia Gallerani exited the ducal palace. Other scholars think it represents Beatrice d’Este, Ludovico’s bride who died in childbirth at 21.

Question 4)  In the Leonardo's Portraits class that you did for those of us who pre-ordered The Night Portrait, you said that Raffaelo Sanzie known as Raphael was influenced by Da Vinci.  What aspects of Raphael's painting style show this influence?

When young Raffaello Sanzio arrives in Florence for the first time around 1504, we see him immediately experimenting with the three-quarter pose familiar to us now in the Mona Lisa, as well as other stylistic features of Florentine painting.

At that time, Leonardo da Vinci was considered an accomplished older master who freely shared his ideas and work with younger painters. I have no doubt that Raphael studied Leonardo’s work.


Laura Morelli, Ph.D.
Art Historian | Historical Novelist

    Thank you, Laura Morelli.  I appreciate your insights and your wonderful novels.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Josephine Baker's Last Dance: The Story of A 20th Century African American Performer

I won Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones about two years ago through Goodreads Giveaways and I recently finished reading it.  Yes, I know.  I'm a disgrace.  It's just that I tend to prioritize blog tours because I need to post on a definite date. Then there's the authors, publishers and publicists who contact me directly about a book asking me to review it within a certain time frame.  Having a specific deadline works best for me.   Goodreads Giveaways don't even require reviews.  I still like to post reviews of those I won from that source when I have the time.  The last time I reviewed a Goodreads Giveaway win, it was 2019, and I reviewed it only on Goodreads. That's what I tend to do when the review is going to be relatively short, and I haven't been asked to review the book on a blog.

I've read three novels by Sherry Jones previously.  The first two were the books devoted to Mohammed's daughter, Aisha.  They were The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina which I reviewed on Goodreads.  I participated in the blog tour for Jones' Heloise and Abelard novel, The Sharp Hook of Love. That post appeared on this blog here .   I didn't expect that it would take this long for a review of a  fourth Sherry Jones book to appear.



I've never read a novel about Josephine Baker.  In fact, the only other one that I found online is a graphic novel that can be found on Goodreads  here.  So Josephine Baker is an unusual subject for a novel.  I had heard of her, and wanted to know more about her life.  That's the reason I entered the Goodreads giveaway.

 Although Josephine Baker was born in the U.S., as a Black woman she couldn't be a great star in  America during the first half of the 20th century, as she was in Paris.  This is why she lived in Paris for almost her entire adult life.  The French song that is most associated with her,  "J'ai Deux Amours" expressed her affection for her two loves, her country and Paris.  As a narrator, Sherry Jones commented that her country didn't love her back.  When she was in the U.S. , Josephine had to contend with race prejudice and segregation.   She wasn't immune to them because of her success in Paris.  She came back to the United States at one point with the purpose of organizing a campaign against segregation.  I had no idea that Josephine Baker had briefly been a civil rights activist during the 1950's.  I considered that aspect of her life, the biggest revelation in Josephine Baker's Last Dance.

I tried to understand Josephine Baker's orientation toward marriage. On the one hand, she seemed to believe that she ought to marry a man if she was in love with him.  This happened a number of times.  On the other hand, she didn't want a man to control her life.  Husbands and men who aspired to be her husband were likely to try to make decisions for her.  One man who wasn't legally married to her actually pulled off a masterful effort to keep Josephine under his thumb that I  thought was only possible for husbands.  I could only imagine that she was too involved in her career to notice what he had done.   I am happy to say that she extricated herself from that adverse situation without the help of a man. 

My only disappointment with this book is that Sherry Jones tantalized me with the idea of Josephine Baker as a pilot, but never gave me any more than two bare mentions of it.  I love reading about women in the history of aviation, and in fact woman pilots is a major focus of this blog.   So don't tell me that Josephine owned a plane and had flying skills, but never give me even one scene of her flying.  I felt deprived.   I would have given this book five stars on Goodreads if  there had been piloting sequences during the period of Josephine's life when I thought it most likely that this could have happened. 

I could have loved Josephine Baker's Last Dance, though I did like what we were given very much.  Josephine was really an extraordinary woman with great gifts that have lived on in the history of performing artists. Yet I did want to have more detail about her contributions in other areas.   Perhaps another author will one day write that Josephine Baker novel.  On that day, I will celebrate.


Friday, September 25, 2020

The Night Portrait: Two Women in the History of a Da Vinci Painting

I found out about The Night Portrait  by novelist and art historian Laura Morelli, when her assistant asked me to do a Q&A with the author on both of her 2020 historical fiction releases.  

The first was The Giant, a novel of Michelangelo's David which I reviewed on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here.  That review is so far my most viewed post of 2020 on that other blog.

 I was gifted with a PDF of The Night Portrait well in advance of publication, but was unable to read it because I couldn't adjust the miniscule font on my Kindle e-reader.  So I had to wait until my pre-ordered copy arrived from Amazon.  I dived into The Night Portrait after I finished and reviewed the title I was reading for a blog tour with a post that had to appear on September 20th.  This is why it took me longer to get to this dual period novel dealing with the creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine and its later history during World War II.


The first of the two women protagonists to appear in the narrative is fictional  museum art conservator Edith Becker who is introduced to us during 1939 in Munich.  The museum staff are poring over the records Edith had created about the great paintings by Old Masters in private hands in Poland. The Nazis were stealing art from every nation in Europe where they had a presence.  The Chairman of the Board at the museum where Edith worked was justifying German theft of these paintings with a conspiracy theory about Americans seizing them for Jewish museums in the United States. I have visited Jewish museums.  They only contain works by Jewish artists.  There's no possibility that you would ever have found a portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci hanging on the wall in a Jewish museum. 

I sincerely doubt that Edith took the Jewish Museum conspiracy seriously.  She was much more concerned about her life being hijacked.  She was being sent to Poland in order to assist with the largest art theft in history. Edith felt that these paintings  "had been cast like dice into a game that had spiraled out of her control."  This is a direct quote from Laura Morelli's narration.

It seemed to me that the Nazis were taking advantage of Edith's love of  art.  If a painting was given into her hands, she had to preserve it.  She would clean it and ameliorate any damage that had occurred during its travel from the home where it had been kept by its owner. Edith was portrayed as a consummate professional who was inwardly horrified to be conscripted into participation in a criminal enterprise.  Yet she wasn't helpless either.  Could Edith find a way to disrupt the Nazi plan to own all of Europe's great art? 

 The second female protagonist in The Night Portrait  is chronologically first because she is the woman that Leonardo Da Vinci painted when Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, commissioned what became known as  Lady With An Ermine.  She was Cecilia Gallerani, the sixteen year old mistress of Ludovico Sforza.  So history remembers Cecilia as a perpetual sixteen year old.  Here is a public domain image of the painting from Wikipedia.


                                Lady With An Ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci

Cecilia might not be regarded as a feminist in the modern sense of the word, but she knew what kind of life would make her happy, and it wasn't becoming a nun as her family intended.  She wanted to be surrounded by the beautiful things that you would find in a ducal court, and to become a celebrated singer.  Ludovico Sforza fell in love with her, and she got everything she wanted.   Cecilia had beauty. She was also a musician and a gifted singer. The Night Portrait also tells us what happened to Cecilia after her relationship with Ludovico Sforza was over.  I will tell you only that Cecilia Gallerani's life was not a story of  victimhood.   Cecilia had a strong will, and she was able to charm people.

There were also significant male characters including Leonardo Da Vinci and participants in the Monuments Men.  The Monuments Men were officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program.  I am linking to its Wikipedia article. They were a military organization run by the Allies of World War II to protect European art and return stolen art.  Stolen art was returned to the family that owned it when possible, or to the government of the place of origin.

I was most interested in the character of Edith.  Her inner conflict between her passion for preserving art, and her opposition to Nazi art theft gave her a fascinating level of complexity.  I was reminded of Hanna, the protagonist in The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones.  Hanna was an art dealer who facilitated Nazi art theft.  The main difference between Edith and Hanna is that it seemed to me that Hanna was a voluntary collaborator with the Nazis.  See my Goodreads review  of The Woman Who Heard Color. I admired Edith, but I thoroughly despised Hanna.

I was also interested in finding out more about the life of Da Vinci.  I was surprised by Laura Morelli's portrayal of Da Vinci's attitude toward the role of art in his life.  I knew that Da Vinci had a great many interests other than art.  In The Night Portrait Da Vinci was shown to have priorities that appeared to be far more important to him than being an artist.

The bibliography that Laura Morelli has included shows the depth of her research, but it also provided me with a number of really awesome candidates for further reading on the topics covered in The Night Portrait.  Among the volumes that I intend to obtain soon,  Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity by Paola Tinagli might be of particular interest to the readers of this blog.

The Night Portrait combines accuracy with narrative power.   Those who love books with moving characters and a plot with impact will want to read it for those aspects along with the compelling history and themes.  Laura Morelli seems to have built to a crescendo with her novels of 2020.   I anticipate her future fiction with enthusiasm.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Sinister Sisterhood: A Crime Thriller With Amazing Women Protecting Animals

Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me about reviewing crime thriller Sinister Sisterhood by Jane Badrock when I told him I'd posted my review of  my last read for this blog, Ambush.  He said that it would contain the strong women characters that I wanted to see when I read for Flying High Reviews. So I accepted the review copy that he sent me.


Wiley was definitely on the money when he said that there would be strong women in Sinister Sisterhood.  I was very pleased with some of these characters.

Sinister Sisterhood centers on an employment agency named Elle's Belles.  Owner Elle Scarlett donates part of her profits to organizations that help animals.  She became committed to animals due to the influence of her Aunt Pat who lives near a tiger sanctuary in India and volunteers there.  I loved Aunt Pat. 

Another favorite of mine was the professional cleaner Chloe May Chopra who could clean absolutely anything.   You might call her a ninja cleaner if a ninja had cleaning skills.  She also has what might be considered a paranormal power if this were a fantasy novel.  Since it isn't, let's say that her intuition is very well developed.  Some readers might consider Chloe improbable, but I loved seeing a woman who cleans rooms in hotels becoming a major hero.

Elle's Belles wander into dangerous territory.  Women are trafficked, and there is a conspiracy to bomb hotels, in addition to their animal activist activities of investigating the hunting of endangered animals and the smuggling of their body parts. Buckle your seat belts, readers. It gets rather wild out there.

Yet it's also fun.   There are some great lines.  Author Jane Badrock must have an advanced degree in witty description.  During a flashback dealing with the background of the Elle's Belles computer expert we learn that she "took to Chicago the way Al Capone took to tax evasion".

If the reference to Al Capone leaves you with the impression that some of these woman characters aren't exactly girl scouts, you'd be right.  There are those who skate over the border between the law abiding citizen and the criminal on a regular basis.  There are also those whose ideas of ethics are very situational.  Badrock likes the idea of her heroines being badass.  Her philosophy is that "women can be as capable and as horrible as men".  I wouldn't have said that I'd be up for that before I read Sinister Sisterhood, but Badrock made me like it by always being entertaining.


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