Friday, June 21, 2024

The Paris Understudy: Are Two Female Protagonists Better Than One?

 It certainly looks like I'm going to have read at least three books in June 2024. I haven't read that many since March.   That gives me hope that my book totals may be heading upward for the rest of the year. 

I've been searching through my e-mail to try to find out who sent me this book.  I haven't been able to find it in any e-mail folder.  So I can't credit the possible publicist who sent me the book that I am reviewing here. Whoever you are, you have my gratitude. 

I can tell you that the author is Aurelie Thiele and that her website can be found at Italics Are Mine.  There is more than one individual with the name of Aurelie Thiele.  I decided that she must be the Aurelie Thiele on the Goodreads Page devoted to Thiele.                                         


This is a tale of two fictional French opera singers. Madeleine refused to sing in Nazi Germany.  The more influential Madeleine had made her rival Yvonne, her understudy.  So Yvonne feared that she would get no work if she didn't sing in Madeleine's place. This was a serious error in judgement, but she couldn't see the implications for the future of her career.  Even worse, she didn't perceive that the beliefs of the Nazis were unconscionably evil. Singing was apparently all she knew and cared about.  So her professional debut was in Nazi Germany, and it was a triumph.  She sang Isolde in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde to great acclaim. Hitler was present at the performance, and called Yvonne "an enchantress".

In the Author's Note, Thiele reveals that Yvonne was based on the real life opera singer, Germaine Lubin, whose Wikipedia page can be found at the hyperlink.  If you haven't read The Paris Understudy, I would advise you not to read that Wikipedia page because it's virtually identical to the plot of Thiele's novel. 

I did like The Paris Understudy for the historical context even though I didn't enjoy reading about the rivalry between the protagonists.  I prefer reading about women who are friends rather than competitive rivals. 



Sunday, June 9, 2024

Better The Blood: A Female Maori Protagonist in New Zealand

When I ran a search for "Maori", I discovered that I had reviewed a book dealing with this Polynesian people in New Zealand about ten years ago.  You can find that review at Novel Taking Place in the 19th Century Containing Maori Characters.   The book I'm currently reading is a contemporary thriller with a female protagonist.  That means my review of Better the Blood by Michael Bennett belongs here on Flying High Reviews. Kudos to Bennett because this is his first novel.  I checked out the copy of Better the Blood that I read from a public library.

I would like to mention that this book has actual footnotes at the bottom of pages.  This is unusual in recently published books.  Most current publications that contain notes, have endnotes that appear at the back of the volume.


 The protagonist is Maori police detective Hana Westerman.  Hana is a complex character with loyalties to both law enforcement and to her people which can conflict.

An old woman said that her 19th century ancestor burned English buildings.  Then he gathered about a dozen men and they went into the forest.  "From there they waged war."  The men in the forest sounded like Robin Hood's band to me. The woman said her ancestor was hanged in 1863.

The first contemporary crime that appears in this novel was committed by Patrick Thompson, an English descended man who had been convicted of the rape of a Maori woman.  He had openly told Hana that he also wanted Hana's daughter.  Thompson accused Hana of attacking him, but Hana had only told Thompson to stay away from her daughter.

The body of a different rapist, Terrence Sean McElvey, was discovered.  He'd died of blunt force trauma when a weapon connected with his skull.  He'd previously killed his infant daughter who had fallen on her head, and had received a three year sentence for manslaughter.

Yet the actions of the Maori revolutionary/terrorist Poata Raki dominate the narrative.  His violence is viewed negatively by Hana, but she is sympathetic to his cause.  This ambivalence is understandably difficult for her to deal with.  For Raki, this is all very personal.  It's about what's been done to members of his family, and what's been done to his tribe.  Hana sees Raki as a member of her people who has "lost his way".

I thought that this novel was powerful and indeed beautiful and haunting in its resolution.  It's been a while since I'd read any fiction that deserved to be given the grade of A.  Better The Blood  actually got an A+ from me for its thematic focus and the complexity of  Bennet's view of  the various characters who are all parties to this personal and political conflict.







Thursday, May 9, 2024

Rogue Justice: A Book by Stacey Abrams Has A Strong Female Protagonist

When I started 2024 with a post on Flying High Reviews, I didn't imagine that I wouldn't be back for four months--just as I didn't know that I wouldn't post here for all of 2023.  Again, the problem of  not coming across strong female protagonists reared its ugly head.   I can't promise that it won't happen again either.  I already know that the next book I'm reading will be non-fiction.  So I won't review it here.  Hopefully, a novel with a strong female protagonist will surface in the next few months.


It shouldn't astonish anybody that the book that occasioned my return to Flying High Reviews was by real life strong woman Stacey Abrams. For those who don't follow U.S. politics, I have a link to Abrams' Wikipedia article here.

I'm beginning my discussion of Rogue Justice with a brief reference to  African spirit Mami Wata in the book.  Abrams called a company Mami Wata Inc.  I recognized the name and am doing my due diligence by posting a link to an article about Mami Wata from the Smithsonian website for the National Musum of African Art.

Rogue Justice is the sequel to the Abrams thriller While Justice Sleeps.  I read and reviewed that novel in  June 2021 on Goodreads  here.  

The strong female protagonist who had been central to bringing the President of the United States to the brink of impeachment is Avery Keene, a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Winn.  Justice Winn is in a coma, but Avery had uncovered genocide, treason and murder which needed to be investigated.

In Rogue Justice Avery found out about such a terrible threat to the entire U.S. that I thought it could justify the legally compromised President declaring himself a dictator.  The woman behind this threat had been denied justice while she was in the Navy.

There are a number of important revelations by the end of the book, but it didn't seem completely resolved.  So I suspect there will be another sequel.







Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Lantern's Dance: A Mary Russell Book by Laurie R. King To Open 2024

It may seem that I've been neglecting Flying High Reviews . I'd like to emphasize that this is a blog for strong female protagonists.  There actually were no strong female protagonists among the books I read in 2023 in my estimation.  I was hoping for one, but no female protagonist in the novels I read last year met my admittedly exacting standards.

 The Lantern's Dance got my immediate attention.  I was astonished to get an approval of a Laurie R. King novel from Net Galley at the end of last year.  I've never had an approval for such an eminent mystery author.


Mary Russell is one of my favorite female protagonists.  So I was disappointed to see her periodically de-emphasized in favor of characters I hadn't previously encountered. Mary Russell works with Sherlock Holmes. Both Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are fictional characters.  Sherlock Holmes was created by Arthur Conan Doyle and Mary Russell was created by Laurie R. King, the author of The Lantern's Dance.  It's the 18th book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

 There was a complex web of characters in The Lantern's Dance. I sometimes had to page back to where these characters were introduced to identify who they were.  Changes in perspective added to the complexity.  There was at least one moment of confusion about the viewpoint character that I recorded in my notes.

There is a reference to Monet's cataracts in this book.  This sent me to the Wikipedia article dealing with Claude Monet.  I had never focused on Monet because I couldn't recall seeing any of his work in person.  I actually had, but I didn't find it memorable.   So this is the first time I've looked up Monet and read something about his life.  It's tragic for a visual artist to develop cataracts.   

There was also a reference to a controversy over whether art should be decorative in The Lantern's Dance.  I have a comment in my handwritten notes on this novel dealing with seeing Picasso's "Guernica" in person.  "Guernica" had a strong impact on me.  In 10 Facts About Guernica  I learned that Picasso considered this painting to be centrally about fascism.  I conclude that for Picasso, art wasn't about being decorative.  If art is supposed to be decorative, then "Guernica", one of the most memorable pieces of art I've ever seen, is not art.  

Indigo and the Indian revolt against growing it in 1859 is mentioned in The Lantern's Dance. The British had forced Indians to grow indigo instead of a food crop.  I found a Wikipedia article about a play called Nil Darpan that deals with the revolt against growing indigo.  The play was controversial.  James Long, the man who published it in English, was charged with sedition and imprisoned.  I found the play in pdf  format at Nil Darpan on Internet Archive if you're interested in reading it.

The real artist, Horace Vernet, who is often referenced in The Lantern's Dance, had an 1835 self-portrait that Laurie R. King calls Holmesian in her Author's Note.  I am including this self-portrait below in a resized format that will fit on the page.  I agree that this image of  Vernet does resemble the way some might view Sherlock Holmes.  Since Laurie R. King is one of them, we must give serious consideration to her view.  

Here is the self portrait of Vernet in question:




The author notes that 2024 marks 30 years since the first  Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novel , The Beekeeper's Apprentice, appeared.  So I would like to wish Laurie R. King a happy anniversary and felicitations on publishing this very labyrinthine mystery.