It occurred to me that the central character of Rhinoceros Summer by Jamie Thornton starts off as the mirror image of the central character of another...moreIt occurred to me that the central character of Rhinoceros Summer by Jamie Thornton starts off as the mirror image of the central character of another book that I reviewed last year on The Unmasked Persona’s Reviews. Lydia Gibbs, the aspiring teen photographer in Rhinoceros Summer thinks that going to Africa will be a tremendous career-making opportunity. Jazz Hooper, the grief stricken teen with no aspirations in The See Through Leopard by Sibel Hodge, resents being uprooted by her father and hates going to Africa. Neither girl found what they expected there, but their experiences in Africa were life-changing.
My main criticism of The See Through Leopard about overt didacticism doesn’t hold true for Rhinoceros Summer. There are certainly ideas in this novel, but no long speeches. There are thoughts from the characters that give us their perspectives. Since there are multiple perspectives, I don’t feel that the author is preaching at me.
As the novel opens, Lydia the preacher’s daughter, is working at a Christian supply store. I wondered at that point whether this book could be considered Christian fiction. Although Lydia’s parents are portrayed sympathetically, their beliefs are not the only ones that are portrayed in a positive light. So I wouldn’t consider Rhinoceros Summer Christian fiction. At one point Lydia gets what she considers a surprising African viewpoint on Christian missionaries.
The complexity with which Jamie Thornton addresses her themes, builds her characters and re-creates the African milieu is what makes Rhinoceros Summer an excellent novel.
I received a free copy of this book through a giveaway on Booklikes.
One of the problems with this book is that I found it to be a slow starter. Velva Jean doesn’t start to learn how to fly until Chapter 13. People unin...moreOne of the problems with this book is that I found it to be a slow starter. Velva Jean doesn’t start to learn how to fly until Chapter 13. People uninterested in country singing, Nashville or Appalachian culture may become restless. Her first solo flight happens on page 109.
As a novel about a woman pilot, it lacked the dramatic intensity of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith or the unusual perspective of Call Sign: White Lily. I’m interested in the Appalachian aspect, but once she started flying she didn’t seem identified with her culture in the way that Lilia Litvyak of Call Sign: White Lily was always Russian.
I also was uncertain of this character’s focus. Why did Velva Jean want to become a pilot? She wanted to become a country singer in the first book and apparently switches her vocation to spy in the third book. I wondered if she was really a sensation seeker who craved excitement rather than someone committed to a particular vocation.
The author argues that persecution of religious minorities in Christian and Moslem Europe during the medieval period was often politically or economic...moreThe author argues that persecution of religious minorities in Christian and Moslem Europe during the medieval period was often politically or economically motivated rather than religiously motivated.
He also makes the intriguing argument that "margin" and "center" are meaningless terms. I think that this may be true on the macro level. Entire ethnic groups don't always have the same status in all historical periods. Yet I think that "margin" and "center" may hold true in the lives of individuals. These are certainly meaningful terms when discussing how individuals perceive themselves, and how it impacts their own self-concepts. It's of key importance to point out, however, that an individual's perception of his or her own status as "marginal" or part of the "center" is subjective. I don't think that the fact that they are subjective makes them less meaningful, however.
This is nevertheless a very interesting book--particularly regarding the relationships between Jews and Muslims in Spain under Muslim rule. (less)
Magdalene laundries in Australia? I had thought they were only an Irish phenomenon, but apparently there have been Magdalene laundries in any country...moreMagdalene laundries in Australia? I had thought they were only an Irish phenomenon, but apparently there have been Magdalene laundries in any country where there have been Catholics. Girls from a Magdalene laundry are disappearing. A naive female writer decides to investigate and promptly disappears herself. So it becomes a job for Phryne Fisher. P Another interesting aspect of this novel is that Phryne has an apprentice who is a Tinker. There is some culture conflict between the young Tinker and the rest of Phryne's household.
The resolution was marvelous and involved an actual woman historical personage. I will want to read more about her. She's in the bibliography that Greenwood includes. (less)
Since Twelfth Nightis my favorite Shakespeare play, when I learned that Celia Rees had written a kind of sequel, I had to read it. I also loved the fa...moreSince Twelfth Nightis my favorite Shakespeare play, when I learned that Celia Rees had written a kind of sequel, I had to read it. I also loved the fact that Shakespeare was a character who was participating in the plot and being inspired to write Twelfth Night as a result. This is very recursive, but that only makes it more appealing to me. There are also 16th century social issues and an unusual outlaw of the greenwood. I think this is one of my favorite Celia Rees novels.(less)
For A Thread in the Tangle Sabrina Flynn seems to have drawn the elements of her fantasy world from a multiplicity of sources. What's really interesti...moreFor A Thread in the Tangle Sabrina Flynn seems to have drawn the elements of her fantasy world from a multiplicity of sources. What's really interesting is that she's drawn them from mythology rather than from other fantasy novels. Tolkien built Middle Earth from mythology. He used the Norse and Celtic mythologies which are the building blocks of his British heritage. Sabrina Flynn has gone to the same well as Tolkien, but she's found aspects of these mythologies that didn't interest Tolkien. She's also used elements from other cultures. This results in fantasy worldbuilding that doesn't seem quite so formulaic.
In the area of magic, I was intrigued that healing spells can be overused like antibiotics. Such a limitation gives this world's magical system more verisimilitude. I also liked the magical use of runes and how that was developed. It's interesting that there are various strength levels for a binding rune.
Although it was somewhat predictable because it's within the same character and plot dynamics that show up in almost every book in this series, I was...moreAlthough it was somewhat predictable because it's within the same character and plot dynamics that show up in almost every book in this series, I was impressed with all the revelations about Sano's mother, and I ended up respecting her courage. That's the mother of a samurai!(less)
I liked Julius Romeros Extravaganza Part I by Hayley Lawson Smith very much. It was in the top ten of the books I read for 2013, and I consider it one...moreI liked Julius Romeros Extravaganza Part I by Hayley Lawson Smith very much. It was in the top ten of the books I read for 2013, and I consider it one of the best and most original circus novels that I've ever encountered. The second book is quite different. Its tone is much darker. Like Part I, I received this book for free from the author in return for an honest review.
At one point in the narrative, I said to myself that this book could be very inspiring for readers who are being abused if the characters completely overcame their situation. Unfortunately, we don't know what happens because Part 2 ends with a cliffhanger.
An author who decides to end a book with a cliffhanger is taking a risk. Some readers will feel compelled to buy the next book because they need to know what happens next. Other readers feel that cliffhangers are manipulative and that this is an overused device in series. A certain proportion of the readers in the second category may be so annoyed by the fact that the book ended on a cliffhanger that they will never purchase a book by that author ever again. Authors need to consider that they will be alienating a part of their audience when they end their books with a cliffhanger.
I care about Abigail, the bearded girl who is the central character of these books, and I'm willing to believe that the inspiring resolution that I was looking for at the end of this novel will happen in the next book. Yet I have to admit that I would have preferred that the plot had gone in a different direction. (view spoiler)[For example, what happened to the gypsies who took in Julius Romeros and seemed to know where his traveling extravaganza was located? That's how Abigail could be brought to Julius Romeros in the first book. Wouldn't these gypsies have found out what was going on, and at least made an attempt to rescue one or more of the performers? (hide spoiler)]
Bellman and Black is about a man who never looked back. He was always looking forward. The story deals with the consequences of dismissing the past as...moreBellman and Black is about a man who never looked back. He was always looking forward. The story deals with the consequences of dismissing the past as irrelevant. Many readers might agree that there is no reason to concern ourselves with past events. Saying that something is "history" means that it's over and done with. It no longer has any significance. "It's so yesterday." Diane Setterfield's latest book speaks to them. She has written a cautionary tale.
I received this book from the publisher through Net Galley and this is my belated review. I can only plead the challenges of library school as an extenuating circumstance.
Protagonist William Bellman was a pillar of the 19th century English industrial revolution. He was always more than one step ahead of everyone else. He was remarkable at predicting future trends. He put all his energy into his work and was committed to being better than his competitors. Unlike some current corporations, he was decent and considerate toward his employees. It was more important to make sure that his workers were happy than to make additional profit at their expense. He was certain that happy employees would be dedicated ones who would be loyal to the firm. Surely William Bellman was a man who would have been widely admired and respected. Yet he had a secret that he'd buried in the past. He wasn't in the least bit haunted by his memories. The past simply didn't exist for him.
Although I thought this book was well-written and engaging, I didn't find it original so I couldn't give it more than three stars.
This book deserves even more acclaim than it has received. It's my favorite YA novel of 2013. On the narrative level it's about a girl with a paranorm...moreThis book deserves even more acclaim than it has received. It's my favorite YA novel of 2013. On the narrative level it's about a girl with a paranormal gift who can really send a message with her talent. No one in Mississippi can mess with this Haitian! Haitian immigrants to the U.S. are usually portrayed in fiction as victims, not heroes. That's very cool!
But there's also the background about the woman warriors of Dahomey which in my opinion is even cooler!
This is my favorite historical fiction of 2013. I won it a Historical Fictionistas giveaway. It takes place primarily in 16th century Scotland and I f...moreThis is my favorite historical fiction of 2013. I won it a Historical Fictionistas giveaway. It takes place primarily in 16th century Scotland and I found it very authentic. I feel that this author knows the people of Scotland and this period.
I find this problematic to review. Other reviews here have danced around the topic that sets this book apart because it's a huge spoiler. I could put it in spoiler brackets, but I don't find that adequate. I was more open about it in the blog version of my review. My justification is that someone who is seeking the sort of relationships portrayed in this novel would love to know that a book like this exists. So far as I know it's unique. It's also true that there are those who would want to avoid this sort of book. Sexuality is a sensitive topic. I want to disagree with a review here that obliquely questions this book's authenticity. I think that in actual historical reality, this situation might have been more common than people think. I deal with that issue on my blog.
I shelved this book as fantasy because it's the closest equivalent. I have no shelf for magical realism. There are also stronger fantasy elements in t...moreI shelved this book as fantasy because it's the closest equivalent. I have no shelf for magical realism. There are also stronger fantasy elements in this book than there had been in the previous volume, Love of Shadows.
This book is my favorite indie novel of 2013. What I liked best about it is the portrayal of magic as connected to dreams and the unconscious. I also loved the portrayal of the relationship of healers with animal familiars.
This book was my favorite read of 2013. I found out about it through the myth and fairy tale group Into The Forest when they were reading Hood: The Ki...moreThis book was my favorite read of 2013. I found out about it through the myth and fairy tale group Into The Forest when they were reading Hood: The King Raven Trilogy - Book 1.
What I liked most of about this book is that Knight views Robin Hood as a legend rather than a historical personage. As a legend, Robin Hood evolves over time. Every period and indeed every author can have his or her own Robin Hood. Whether there was ever a historical personage by that name who inspired the legend is unimportant to Knight and to me.
I purchased this book at a local independent bookstore. Support your local bookstores! City of Lost Dreams is my favorite piece of fiction published i...moreI purchased this book at a local independent bookstore. Support your local bookstores! City of Lost Dreams is my favorite piece of fiction published in 2013. What I liked most about this book is its inventiveness and the role of music.
Would you believe it took me two months to write this review?
The subjects of Improbable Women by William Cotterman are women from wealthy families who...moreWould you believe it took me two months to write this review?
The subjects of Improbable Women by William Cotterman are women from wealthy families who were explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was an era when ladies like these were supposed to be homebodies or charitable lady bountifuls if they engaged in any activity. This unconventionality made them seem very interesting to me. I had heard of all of them, but had never read anything about them. So I appreciated the fact that the publisher Syracuse University Press made this available for download on Net Galley.
I saw a review on Goodreads which criticized Cotterman for including the ancient Queen Zenobia of Palmyra as an indulgence on the part of the author because there is no evidence included in the book that all of his explorer subjects were keenly interested in Queen Zenobia as he claimed. Freya Stark did write about Queen Zenobia in Rome on the Euphrates, but it seemed to me that Isabel Arundell Burton only went to the ruins of Queen Zenobia's Palmyra because her husband, Sir Richard Francis Burton was going and they both wanted to prove that an El-Mesrab tribe escort was unnecessary. So I thought the comment that Queen Zenobia wasn't quite relevant to this study was a fair one, but I was nevertheless delighted that she had been included because I wanted to know more about her.
Hester Stanhope, the first of these women explorers, is definitely my favorite. Her father, the Earl of Stanhope, supported the French Revolution and wanted to give up his title. He removed the coat of arms from his gates and decided to call his home Democracy Hall. I found his eccentricity delightful, but he was ironically a rather authoritarian parent. Yet Hester Stanhope's life certainly shows that she could be as eccentric as her father had been in her own way.
Gertrude Bell, another of Cotterman's subjects, had an aunt and uncle with a house in Teheran. She stayed with them and learned Farsi. She was a climber, an archaeologist and did a great deal of interesting political work, but Cotterman seemed too interested in her unhappy romances.
After reading Cotterman's study, I will want to read full scale biographies of both Hester Stanhope and Gertrude Bell. I know that there are excellent books on both women. I think that the main value of Improbable Women is to whet the interest of readers, so that they will want to find out more.
I was reminded of Umberto Eco's mystery The Name of the Rose. Eco's book isn't similar to Fontana's in content, but they are alike in being mysteries...moreI was reminded of Umberto Eco's mystery The Name of the Rose. Eco's book isn't similar to Fontana's in content, but they are alike in being mysteries that are also novels of ideas.
The character that I found most notable is Sara Copio Sullam, an actual historical personage, who was a poet and a thinker who was accused of heresy. For more information see the article about her by Howard Tzvi Adelman on The Jewish Women's Archive.
I admit that I didn't always agree with Fontana's version of Sara. He has her thinking that allegories are a strategy to make men feel more learned than they are. I think that allegories are codes used by people who know a great deal, but are afraid of the consequences of expressing what they know publicly. When the consequences include being denounced to the Inquisition, disguising what you know in elaborate ciphers would definitely seem wiser.
There was a great deal of value in The Aquatic Labyrinth. I found the story very compelling toward the end, and I identified with the character of Sara.
Yet I do have criticisms. As much as I liked the thematic, historical and cultural content, I did think that characterization was a weak point of this book. It seemed to me that the only well-drawn complex character was Sara. Another problem is that some significant events weren't shown. Fontana chose to tell us about them indirectly. There was also a great deal of overt didacticism. In fiction, I prefer a plot that demonstrates the ideas that the author wants to communicate through its events, rather than being told about these ideas in the manner of non-fiction.
I recommend this book to people who are interested in labyrinths, the history and culture of Venice and novels of ideas.
I was delighted to receive a copy of The See Through Leopard for review through a giveaway on All About Animals. It’s a YA novel about a griefstricken...moreI was delighted to receive a copy of The See Through Leopard for review through a giveaway on All About Animals. It’s a YA novel about a griefstricken British teenager whose life is transformed by a leopard. Last year I'd read Endangered by Eliot Schrefer which received the National Book Award. Endangered focuses on an African teen whose mother runs a refuge for primates. I consider it the best novel I read in 2012. I hoped to be as impressed by Sibel Hodge's book.
I thought that the cover was wonderful, but it did lead me to expect a sentimental novel without realism. This is not the case. Sibel Hodge has evidently done a great deal of research on leopards and the situation of wildlife in Kenya. A portion of the profits from this book's sale will be going to Panthera, an organization for the preservation of big cats.
The book opened in England where the protagonist, Jazz, was shattered by the death of her mother and the circumstances surrounding it. It was obvious that Jazz was in crisis. Jazz's father, a veterinarian, decided to move them to a game reserve in Kenya where he and his wife had worked before Jazz was born. It's there that Jazz encountered the leopard who changed her life.
The See Through Leopard isn't all lectures about animals. There are action plot elements and the characters are well-portrayed. I particularly liked Zach, the young aspiring filmmaker whose father runs the reserve. Zach becomes Jazz's friend, and he is terrifically supportive.
Although I liked this novel very much for its compelling themes and characterization, it's not flawless. There are times when the lectures get out of hand. Readers who are more tolerant of overt didacticism in fiction may not consider this a problem. The most notable example is Jazz's speech toward the end of the novel. I would have preferred breaking up the speech's text with Jazz's thoughts while giving the speech, or a bit of audience response. Including context makes fiction more evocative.
I do recommend this book. I actually loved most of it, but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't include the flaws of a book along with its strengths in my review.
I'm writing this review because Kirinyaga came up in the recent SFWA kerfuffle. First, Kirinyaga is not sexist. I am a feminist myself, and I consider...moreI'm writing this review because Kirinyaga came up in the recent SFWA kerfuffle. First, Kirinyaga is not sexist. I am a feminist myself, and I consider it profoundly feminist. And yes, it's true that many African traditions are not only sexist but truly horrifying for women. Perhaps African female genital mutilation which predates Islam has slipped the minds of Resnick's critics. The Kikuyu practice FGM though it has been decreasing. I also want to say this: There are also many wonderful African traditions that should be preserved. Kirinyaga may not tell the whole story of who the Kikuyu are or have been in the past. No book ever does tell the whole story about any topic. It should inspire you to read more as many readers of Kirinyaga have done. I am one of them. I became interested in reading more about African cultures because I read Kirinyaga.(less)
Killing Custer by Margaret Coel is a contemporary mystery that deals with historical re-enactment. I actually know a number of medieval re-enactors an...moreKilling Custer by Margaret Coel is a contemporary mystery that deals with historical re-enactment. I actually know a number of medieval re-enactors and a few Victorian re-enactors , but all these people are hobbyists. There isn't one of them who truly believes that he or she is a historical personage re-born. I will not say that such a thing is impossible. Reincarnation is a cherished belief of Hinduism, Buddhism and a number of other religions. Yet in the context of historical re-enactment, a belief that you really are the role you play can cause some serious difficulties in your relationships with the real people with whom you are currently interacting. This is seen in the lives of several characters in Killing Custer.
I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Berkeley Prime Crime, through the good offices of the author's publicist, Julia Drake.
I've read other books in Margaret Coel's Wind River mystery series that takes place on the Wind River Arapaho reservation. My favorite is The Spirit Woman which deals with Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark.
What I enjoy most about this series is the friendship between Vicky Holden and co-protagonist Father John O'Malley, who is a priest at the St. Francis Mission on the Wind River Reservation. There are some wonderful moments in this friendship during the events of Killing Custer that will gratify the fans of this series. So I will give my fellow Margaret Coel fans a heads up that this latest installment in the Wind River series will be available very soon. It is slated for release on September 3, 2013.
The main reason I'm reviewing this is "Thirteen Views of Higher Edo" by Patric Helmaan which is about a very troubled artist on a Japanese space stati...moreThe main reason I'm reviewing this is "Thirteen Views of Higher Edo" by Patric Helmaan which is about a very troubled artist on a Japanese space station. It's not just about art. There were insights into family, relationships and how people re-write their own histories. This was really an excellent character study. If it had been a novel, it would have gotten five stars.(less)