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.