Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Exiled: Anna Fekete Demands Justice In Serbia

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto is the third in a series of mysteries dealing with police detective Anna Fekete who lives and works in Finland.  In this book, she goes home to see her family in Serbia and encounters murder in Kanizsa, her home village.  I won this novel in a Goodreads giveaway in 2016. It is the last of  five Goodreads giveaway wins from last year.  I have finally gotten it read while it's still  Women in Translation (WIT) month. Kati Hiekkapelto originally wrote this book in Finnish.  For more information about WIT month see an interview with the Israeli woman scientist who originated it here .


This is the first novel I've read in this series, but my perception is that Anna Fekete is not a noir detective.  She believes in values that are considered old fashioned in the 21st century like integrity and justice.  The violence in this novel also isn't on the level of the really dark Scandinavian noir that I've read.  There are no stomach churning details.  Although there is 21st century cynicism and corruption on the part of the local authorities in Serbia, I would call this noir lite, and I definitely prefer that. I hate finishing a book feeling totally disgusted as happens with most noir.

I was also glad to see a woman who wouldn't back down no matter how many people told her not to investigate the death of the man who stole her handbag.  It seemed to me that she's a rare woman. Someone else wouldn't have cared about the death of a thief--especially when the thief had stolen from her.  He was Romani and Anna thought he deserved justice.    Anna relied on the assistance of her loyal friend, Reka, a local journalist who gave her information and contacts.  Another woman that I really liked in this novel was Judit, a Romani community leader.

The parallel between Romani in Serbia and African Americans in the United States was very clear in The Exiled.  Romani lives didn't matter.  Whites in Serbia made the exact same sort of  contemptuous comments about Romani as white racists tend to make about African Americans in the U.S.   The people in Anna's village were Hungarians, an ethnic minority in Serbia.  They didn't like it when the government of Serbia discriminated against them, but too many of them looked down on Romani and considered them worthless.

Anna reflected about the village where she was born, and wondered about what home meant.   Could she really feel at home with people who didn't share her values?  I identified with Anna's inner struggle over this issue. 

The current massive refugee problem is part of the background of The Exiled .  The same people who denigrate Romani were equally prejudiced against refugees.  Anna went to the refugee camp with the village's Orthodox priest to see if she could help them.  

The genuinely decent woman protagonist, and her fight against both bigotry and corruption gave The Exiled stature.   It's a cut above the usual mystery.  I look forward to reading the next in the series when it becomes available in English.   


Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Pearl Thief

I've read two books by Elizabeth Wein dealing with female pilots, and reviewed one of them on this blog here.  Female pilots are a focus of  this blog. Wein created some memorable women and girls flying planes in  Rose Under Fire  and Black Dove, White Raven.

 I do need to point out that Julie, the central character of The Pearl Thief , isn't a pilot.  She's the spy protagonist of Wein's Code Name Verity which I didn't read because it was written in a way that didn't hold my attention.  There's supposed to be a movie in development.  If this film ever manifests, I suspect I will like it better than the book.

The Pearl Thief  is a prequel about Julie's early life in Scotland.  So why would I want to read the prequel to a book I didn't even like, and why would I think the review should be posted to Flying High Reviews?   You'll have to read my review to find out the answer to these questions, but I'll tell you right now that I did read every wonderful page of The Pearl Thief.


The main reason why I wanted to read The Pearl Thief is because British Travellers are prominent in the plot.  Travellers are often confused with the Romani who are now believed to have originated in India.  Travellers are native to Britain.  They were also called Tinkers because they mended pots and kettles, but the term Tinker was used as an insult.  Elizabeth Wein serves up intriguing snippets of the history and culture of Travellers in this novel.  I'd love to find out more.
Yet this blog is supposed to center on strong female characters.  Are there any in The Pearl Thief ?  You bet! First and foremost is the Traveller girl, Ellen who braves prejudice and abuse whenever she tangles with people in authority.   She's also fiercely loyal to her family.   Another strong female character is Ellen's dog Pinky who also exhibits bravery in the face of any threat to Ellen. Julie is willing to challenge convention by calling Travellers friends and defending them.  She also occasionally dressed in a man's kilt and was mistaken for a boy.

Another reason why I wanted to read this latest book by Wein is that it's a mystery beginning as a missing person case.   I am a fan of the mystery genre and this one involves several surprising twists. So this is an absorbing and well constructed mystery with great characters and a strong statement against prejudice.  I expect this to be one of my best reads of 2017.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

In The Fullness of Time: A Novel About A Fictional South Carolina Suffragette

Suffragettes are a favorite historical topic of mine.  So far this year I've reviewed  The Poison in All of Us,  a murder mystery dealing with suffragettes, on this blog here.  I've also reviewed a biography of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here.   So I was glad to see a request to review another suffragette novel in my e-mail.   That book was In The Fullness of  Time by Katherine P. Stillerman.  I received a free copy in return for this honest review.

 I wasn't aware that this book was a sequel until I finished it and read the Author's Note.  The first book was Hattie's Place and dealt with the same protagonist.  Since I haven't read it, I can only speculate about Hattie's Place based on its description.  It sounds more character centered than In The Fullness of Time.

 There is a good deal of telling and conversing about events that occurred off the narrative stage.   When an author does this, it distances the readers from those events.   If they are events that are significant in the lives of the characters, the audience may also feel distanced from the characters.  We don't find out what the characters were feeling and thinking as we would if we got to experience the events in real time as the characters experienced them.  

When I read about the focus and source of inspiration for this book in the Author's Note, I understood why Stillerman made the choices that she did. Like many American feminists, she was impressed by the fact that a woman was running for President of the United States.  So the symbolism of publishing a suffragette novel in these circumstances was irresistible. As a feminist myself, I was sympathetic to that perspective.  Unfortunately, this meant that at times Stillerman was more focused on the history of women's suffrage than on the characters.  It seems to me that the result was that her novel had less impact.

Another problem for me is that I was most interested in Hattie's sister in law, Alice, because she was more independent minded than Hattie.  I often wished that Alice was the protagonist.   Perhaps Stillerman thought that Alice was too unconventional and therefore less relatable for her audience.   Some readers also might think that the book would feel more historically authentic with a more typical woman as the central character.  Yet women like Alice did exist,  and I believe that novels that feature them inspire current readers.  It's also possible that if I had read Hattie's Place, I would have considered Hattie a stronger protagonist.

The male character that I considered most interesting was dead before the novel opened.   He was Alice's husband, Raymond,  an innovative physician with extraordinary insight.   I would love to read a book about Alice's unusual  marriage to this man.   Instead the story of Alice's marriage was used as a learning experience for Hattie.  It seems to me that there would be more dramatic power in showing Alice's experiences first hand.

There was an aspect of In The Fullness of Time that I considered valuable because I love history.   Stillerman describes the political process of how women's suffrage became law in the U.S. on both the federal and state levels, and all the obstacles to achieving ratification.  I have never seen a novel that was this detailed about all the practical politics involved in this issue.  Stillerman cites an extensive bibliography in her Notes on Sources.  Her research definitely shows.  For me, all the details made fascinating reading.  Suffragette novels usually only show dramatic high points in the struggle which is more entertaining for the general reader.   I imagine that I am an outlier, and that most of her audience would prefer a book that is more novelistic.  



Friday, April 14, 2017

@SiobhanMFallon Hits Home (Or Jordan) with Strong Moral

The Confusion of Languages
As I read this book, I really disliked it, not because of the writing or even the style though that did take some adjustment at first as it goes from present back to what is being read in a journal, but because I didn't like either of the women. Yet, I have to admit, it's a brutally honest depiction of women in real life. The jealousy, the need to be accepted, the looking down on others, the finding of faults... Sadly, most women, instead of picking each other up, put each other down, and are two faced with each one another. In this novel we don't just see the faces women show the world; we see the vicious other face not usually novelized. Because who wants to sit down and immerse themselves in petty jealousy and hatred? In backstabbing and assumption? In eyeballing someone else's spouse?

It's like Devious Maids in Jordan in Army wife format.

But towards the end, as we're finding out what exactly happened and why, I was riveted. I was skimming just because I had to know what happened. I was engrossed despite my dislike of the characters. And then as I turned the last page, I realized that this novel really made me think deep. There's a strong moral here...DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Be careful what you say about others. The repercussions can be vast.

And again, what I took from this is: Women, stop competing with each other. Stop eyeballing each other. Stop putting each other down. We need to band together and help, really help each other. Not pretend help, not help only as long as it benefits us.

Anyway, there's a reason for the pettiness and the jealousy and the thoughts. We have two women in Jordan, both married to Army men. One is childless and resents the other, the prettier, the smaller, the mother. Little does she know that what she sees is not really what is there.

Another interesting thing about this novel is the look into how we should behave in other cultures; how if we don't adapt, things can go very wrong.

I read You Know When the Men Are Gone and I've come to the conclusion Siobhan Fallon is a master writer and has given us yet another thought-evoking read. You can take away a lot from this if you think about what you're reading.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Golden Spider: Female Medical Student Invents Groundbreaking Medical Device in a Steampunk Novel

I don't normally read  steampunk romantic thrillers, but The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick sounded like a doozy.  Lady Amanda, the female protagonist, is attending medical school and spends her spare time at home working on a device that can reverse paralysis.  I wanted to know more about this woman.   So I requested a sample through Instafreebie, and then purchased the book on Amazon.


Lady Amanda is the daughter of a duke, but she has no interest in the marriage market.  Her goal for the last five years has been the perfecting of her neurarachnid which can theoretically replace neurons to restore movement to paralyzed limbs.  Her brother Ned, the future duke, is her planned first human subject.    Unfortunately, he is very self-centered.  So it's hard to find him sympathetic despite the fact that his legs are paralyzed.   Amanda isn't as much devoted to her brother as she is to the practice of medicine.  She refuses to marry any man who won't allow her to be a physician after the wedding.   Needless to say, it's difficult to find a man who will accede to these terms even in the steampunk alternate universe.  Yet there is HEA in store even for the strong-willed Lady Amanda.

Another aspect of this book that interested me is the investigation of a series of gruesome murders.  All the victims are gypsies.   There is some gypsy culture included in the book that I appreciated.  I was also delighted that gypsies were known as masters of clockwork.

Opinion on this book is divided.  Some readers who love to read steampunk that really develops the scientific side of the devices which the protagonists invent, complain that there is too much romance in this novel.   Other readers complain that there is too much scientific detail in The Golden Spider.  My objection was a failure of realism.  There were medical miracles, but apparently the restored limbs needed no prolonged physical therapy. I can see how lengthy physical therapy would be problematic for the plot, but I found the failure to even mention physical therapy hard to swallow.  I did think the book was an enjoyable read, but  I expect to deduct a star from my rating on Goodreads.

 Correction 4/1l/17-- Perhaps I was writing too many reviews at once this weekend, but I forgot to look over all my notes for this book.  There was a mention of a physical therapist, but physical therapy was absent from the plot.  It played no role.  There were unrealistic recovery times.  So my point still holds.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rebellion Novelized

Through the BarricadesI watched Revolution on Netflix a few months ago. Had I not, everything contained within this novel would have been new to me. Because I watched the series, I knew what the heroine was getting herself into and that she was stupid. But she has heart and spunk, I'll give her that, and I enjoyed her tale. It's a tale of brother against brother, country against country, lover against lover, as she is an Irish rebel and he's in the British Army. At the same time he's fighting his own friends. Of course we don't realize this going into the novel at first, not unless you know your Irish history.

I loved the love story. The hero stole my own heart and that's rare. I also really liked the lesson in the pages..about how people are kept down with poverty, and nobody rises above their station without education.

The novel also showed us the kindness of many people during that time, folks who worked in soup kitchens, landlords who tried to help tenants... They may be few and far between but there was good with the bad. THOUGH I didn't really buy into Daniel's dad's change of heart.

Loved the heroine despite that fact I knew she was doing something rather idiotic--though I guess it depends on how you look at it, because as the heroine states at the end of the tale...they made a difference by changing the way some people thought and that was a start for some, while an end for others.

Highly recommend. I borrowed this on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Poison in All of Us--A YA Historical Mystery of a Murdered Suffragette

Connie B. Dowell, the author of  The Poison in All of Us, had me at the word "suffragettes" in the description.  I love reading about suffragettes.  It's one of the things that Tara and I have in common.   So I accepted a free copy of Dowell's novella in return for this honest review.


 The Poison in All of Us takes place in a small town the year before the 19th amendment to the U.S. constitution was ratified by enough states to make women's suffrage the law of the land.  The fictional town of Cora, Georgia was deeply divided on the issue. The women's club voting in favor of women's suffrage plunged this community into what seemed like an escalating spiral of violence which began with the murder of Miss Letty, the leader of the pro-suffrage faction.

The protagonist, Emmie McAllister  is a gutsy and outspoken young woman whose main ambition as the book opens is to buy a motorcycle.   Women riding motorcycles are as fascinating to me as suffragettes which is why Tara's Ride For Rights is one of my favorite books.  So Emmie on her Harley went a long way toward getting me to accept her penchant for taking foolish risks.  I just hope she'll grow out of that tendency over the course of the series.

Dessa, who joins Emmie in investigating the murder,  is practical, cautious and analytical.   There were numerous times when I wondered why Dessa wasn't the protagonist because she noticed things that Emmie didn't.  This made her a superior investigator.   On the other hand, sometimes someone who is investigating a murder needs to be brazen, to take actions that no one expects or to be able to respond quickly to events on her handy motorcycle.  So Emmie and Dessa would make a good team if they weren't antagonistic frenemies for a good part of the narrative.   Their relationship does evolve when Emmie learns more about what motivates Dessa.   I have to say that once Dessa's circumstances are fully revealed, I considered her a more sympathetic character than Emmie.

So what is "the poison in all of us"?  I believe that it's the prejudice that divided the town of Cora.   The animus against women's suffrage didn't end in Georgia for quite some time.  Dowell reveals in her author's note that Georgia didn't ratify the 19th amendment until 1970!

The Poison In All of Us is a suspenseful mystery that also makes strong statements about societal divisions and political corruption.