Saturday, July 31, 2021

Blog Tour: Radar Girls, A Novel of Women in the Air Raid Defense Team During WWII

  I received an advance review copy of Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman from the publisher via Net Galley when I was selected for the blog tour.  I prioritized the book and practically inhaled Radar Girls more than a week ahead of my post date.  I found it suspenseful, and the inner strength of Daisy, the female protagonist, was very inspiring.

                                     


 Many readers might wonder how a novel about WWII could provide any suspense because we all know the results, but we don't know what happens to Daisy and the other characters in Radar Girls.  The characters put the drama in historical fiction by involving us with their lives.

According to the Author's Note, the main source for Radar Girls was a non-fiction book called Shuffleboard Pilots: The History of the Women's Air Raid Defense in Hawai'i 1941-1945 by Candace A. Chenoweth and A. Kam Napier.  There were numerous incidents from Shuffleboard Pilots included in the novel. 

Before Daisy became a member of the Women's Air Raid Defense team, she was a horse trainer following in the footsteps of her deceased father. There was a sub-plot about a valuable missing horse. Moon was a high spirited thoroughbred whose sire had been a race horse.  Daisy felt responsible because Moon went missing when she took him riding without permission.  

There is also a romance which was a will they/won't they subplot involving Daisy and a man who sets the standard for bravery and integrity very high. This American hero would stand out in any novel.  My respect for him only increased over the course of the narrative.

 

I consider Radar Girls an engaging novel that taught me about an aspect of women's participation in WWII that I knew nothing about.

 

                                   

                                     SARA ACKERMAN

                                               

 

Photo by Tracey Wright-Corvo
                      

 


 

 





Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: Skin Color As A Litmus Test For A Packhorse Librarian

I recently discovered The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson which deals with a Kentucky librarian who delivers books to people in the hill country riding a pack mule in the 1930's.  I love librarians and I'm interested in the hill people, so I checked this novel out of the library. 

 I understand that there are two other books that deal with this topic.  They are The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and a children's book called Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin.   I may read them because I am so interested in the way librarians and hill people are portrayed.  I understand that Kim Michele Richardson lives in Kentucky, and that reviewers have considered her authentic.  Since I don't live in Kentucky and have no knowledge of Kentucky hill life in the 1930's, I can't comment on the book's authenticity. 

                                          


Female protagonist Cussy had a hereditary medical condition that caused her skin to be blue. This is a real genetic disease called methemoglobinemia.  Her father, who also had the same condition, imagined that there was a man in Kentucky who could overlook her blue skin and marry her.  This would have to be an unusual man since most people in the area were deeply prejudiced against anyone who was different.  Cussy was aware of this problem, and didn't imagine she would ever marry.  Besides, she found her life as a Pack Horse Librarian satisfying.   She loved delivering reading material to people who had no access to libraries, and finding what they really wanted to read.  Yet it's important to note that Cussy only had access to discards which were books that other libraries didn't want or need in their collections.  Discards were Cussy's "new" books. 

Queenie, a black librarian who had also been delivering books in the hills of Kentucky, decided to go to Philadelphia.  She wrote to Cussy that there were colored doctors there who would treat her sick grandmother, and colored schools for her children.  Cussy thought there were opportunities for blacks in Philadelphia, but not for blues like her. She was probably right.  It was unlikely that Philadelphia would be any better for her.  There wouldn't be blue doctors there, or schools for blue students. 

 For another perspective, I'd like to mention a novel I'd read some time ago dealing with a blue skinned alien who thought himself superior to humans.  I reviewed it here .  

Harriet Hardin, the assistant supervisor at the library center, was a bigoted character that I very much disliked.  Yet her favorite book was The Stars Look Down  by A.J. Cronin which was a sympathetic portrait of a British mining family in the 1930's.  To us this would be historical fiction, but for Harriet and the other characters in this novel, it would have been considered contemporary fiction taking place in the present day.  I haven't read any A. J. Cronin, but I suspect I would like The Stars Look Down myself.  I have put a hold on it.  So we shall see. I noted that this novel was considered similar to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell and put a hold on that one as well.

This book also led me to a highly regarded classic, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  Cussy was given the sequel, Sons, by a library patron who turned out to be a very pivotal character.  I looked up The Good Earth and decided that I should read it. After I finish it, I'll see if I want to read its sequels.  

No review that I've seen of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek has mentioned medical research as one of the issues brought up in this novel.  Doctors wanted samples of Cussy's blood.  It seemed to me that the doctors were more interested in benefiting their own careers than Cussy.  They gave her a drug that had side effects.  Discussing the impact of the drug would be a spoiler, but I consider this racist medical research based on white supremacist ideology.  I applaud Kim Michelle Richardson for showing us so vividly that medicine can be racist.

As a feminist, I was struck by Cussy receiving a letter with a Susan B. Anthony stamp and not knowing who that was, or the meaning of "Suffrage for Women" which was written beneath the stamp.  I was sad that Cussy had never learned about the women who had struggled for women's suffrage, and I wondered if she had been taught about the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution or its ratification on August 8, 1920.  

The Book Woman of  Troublesome Creek made me sit up and take notice of a Kentucky that was unknown to me, and showed me the tough librarians who supplied Kentuckians with books in all times and seasons.



 





                                   

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Leaving Coy's Hill: A Novel About Suffragist Lucy Stone

 

 I haven't posted here for a while.  This is partly because I was moving in March, but I also hadn't been coming across books with strong female protagonists.  I recently got hold of a book about a woman's suffrage leader which was given to me for free by the publisher.

Many readers may never have heard of Lucy Stone.  In my case, I thought that Sherbrooke's novel showed a different side of Lucy Stone than the one I knew about. 

                                  

                                   


I thought of Lucy Stone solely in terms of her puritanical attacks on divorce and Victoria Woodhull, who is one of my favorite suffragists.  (See what I had to say about Woodhull in my review of Seance in Sepia here  , what  Karen J. Hicks had to say about her Woodhull book The Coming Woman here  and my review of the Woodhull novel Madame Presidentess here .)   Yet there was a good deal more to Lucy Stone than I had ever imagined. 

Lucy started thinking about women's rights as a child when she thought a cousin wasn't being well-treated by her husband. She told a woman friend who wanted to be a minister that the Bible was used to diminish women.Then when she was being paid to speak for the abolition of slavery by the Anti-Slavery Society,  she decided that she had to speak out for women as well. When she married Henry Blackwell, she insisted on keeping her own name.  At the time, this was revolutionary.   

This is a book that take's Lucy Stone's perspective.  It shows us where the women's suffrage movement fractured.  Although both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone had husbands, Susan B. Anthony chose to demonize Lucy Stone's marriage as disloyal, but not Elizabeth Cady Stanton's.  I have always believed that feminists should respect women's choices. It seems to me that feminist leaders have gone wrong when they turn on each other because of life style differences.  Shared goals are the foundation of feminism.  Sherbrooke's novel shows that factions are unnecessary, and can have sad consequences. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Door In The Earth: A Novel in Which an Afghani-American Returns to Afghanistan

 The last time I reviewed a Goodreads giveaway win on this blog was Josephine Baker's Last Dance hereA Door Into Earth by Amy Waldman is a 2019 GR giveaway win that I just finished reading.  I am still going through the stack of physical GR giveaway books in the order I received them when I have the time to read them.

                               


If you had told me that I was going to read a novel taking place in current day Afghanistan, I wouldn't have believed you.  I looked up the status of the war.  It's still going on despite the United States signing a peace treaty with the Taliban about a year ago.  See recent developments
.  

 A Door In The Earth isn't primarily about the war.   The war does become prominent toward the end of the novel, but this novel centers on an Afghani-American woman in a small Afghan village with an American built women's medical clinic.  Parveen Shamsa, who left Afghanistan with her parents when she was two years old, was drawn back to the land of her birth by a memoir called Mother Afghanistan written by a fictional American called Gideon Crane.    She was inspired by Crane's reputation as a great humanitarian and wanted to help. 

 Unfortunately, sometimes reputations are built on lies.  I was reminded of  Greg Mortenson who was exposed in Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Crane was loosely based on Mortenson.   I'd say that Amy Waldman's Crane was never the benevolent figure that Parveen imagined he was.   I wondered how she could have had so elevated a view of Crane after having read his memoir.  He doesn't exactly hide his wrongdoings. It also occurred to me to wonder who in U.S. law enforcement would know if he'd completed his community service in Afghanistan.

Parveen feels "unwitnessed" at first because there's no internet access that will allow her to post about her experiences.  I imagined she would have that problem when I first picked up the book.

I finished A Door in the Earth still feeling ambivalent about Parveen.  I also found the ending too inconclusive.  If I were giving a letter grade to this book, it would be a B- .

 

 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Paris Library: A Woman Librarian at the American Library of Paris During WWII

 When a publisher sends me a book in paperback in addition to a digital copy from Net Galley, it's very clear to me that they really want my opinion.   Atria Books, which is a division of Simon & Schuster, did that to bring my attention to their book, The Paris Library.  I love libraries. There's also tremendous interest in this title, and it's set to release next month I decided that I needed to read and review it after I finished with the book I was currently reading at the time.

I mainly read the paperback because I prefer print.  I only read the Net Galley when I was  on public transit.  My Kindle is smaller and lighter than a trade paperback.  Yet I am traveling less during the pandemic than I once did.  So that was a small percentage read in digital format. I finished the book in four days.

 

                            


As the book opens Odile Suchet was preparing for an interview at the American Library of Paris (ALP).  Odile was qualified because she was a library student who knew English.  Though 1/4 of ALP's users were French at the time.  

My feeling is that Odile made serious errors of judgement that hurt people during WWII.  She betrayed the trust of several people who were important to her.  I considered her an unlikable protagonist, but she tried to make amends by behaving graciously to the 1980's teen protagonist, Lily.

I was interested in ALP, but my negative feelings toward Odile lowered my estimation of The Paris Library as a whole.  Perhaps I would have liked a book from the perspective of the American director of ALP, Miss Reeder, much better.