Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Review: Song of the Lion by Anne HillermanSong of the Lion by Anne Hillerman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #21, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #3
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 11th 2017
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A deadly bombing takes Navajo Tribal cops Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, back into the past to find a vengeful killer in this riveting Southwestern mystery from the bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock with Wings
When a car bomb kills a young man in the Shiprock High School parking lot, Officer Bernadette Manuelito discovers that the intended victim was a mediator for a multi-million-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon.
But what seems like an act of ecoterrorism turns out to be something far more nefarious and complex. Piecing together the clues, Bernadette and her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, uncover a scheme to disrupt the negotiations and inflame tensions between the Hopi and Dine tribes.
Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn has seen just about everything in his long career. As the tribal police’s investigation unfolds, he begins to suspect that the bombing may be linked to a cold case he handled years ago. As he, Bernadette, and Chee carefully pull away the layers behind the crime, they make a disturbing discovery: a meticulous and very patient killer with a long-simmering plan of revenge.
Writing with a clarity and grace that is all her own, Anne Hillerman depicts the beauty and mystery of Navajo Country and the rituals, myths, and customs of its people in a mystery that builds on and complements the beloved, bestselling mysteries of her acclaimed father, Tony Hillerman.

My Review:

This case starts out with a very literal (and also very large) bang. Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito has a rare night off. Unfortunately it isn’t a night off that she can share with her husband Jim Chee, also an officer with the Tribal Police. Left to her own devices, Bernie does what a couple of thousand other people are doing that night, going to a basketball game.

Although basketball is a VERY big deal on the rez (Bernie herself played back in high school) this game draws an even bigger crowd than usual. The current high school team are playing against a team made up of veterans from some of Championship teams of the relatively recent past. Everybody wants to see the hometown heroes, and discover whether or not age and experience really can beat youth and skill.

Bernie never gets to see the end of the game, because a bomb goes off in the parking lot. Suddenly Bernie finds herself back on the clock, trying to keep the crowd away from the very big mess (cars explode! car lots full of cars explode LOTS!)

Bernie finds herself in the middle of all the chaos, trying to keep the crowd contained and the crime scene relatively uncontaminated, while searching for any possible victims or suspects (or both) and praying that more officers arrive to help manage the 3,000+ attendees along with all the cars showing up to pick up kids at the end of the game. And she needs the FBI, much as she hates even thinking that, because they are the ones with explosives expertise.

It’s a mess that only gets messier, and more confusing, over the days ahead.

Because there are no coincidences in Bernie’s world, as she was taught by the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, the bombing ties into a much larger case. It seems like the intended victim was a hometown hero on that Championship team, but now he’s a big-shot lawyer from the big city. And he’s come back to the Rez not just for a basketball game, but to serve as mediator for all of the many, varied, contradictory and non-cooperative factions who are debating (loudly, heatedly and occasionally violently) about whether there should be any development at all at the base of the Grand Canyon.

A debate that feels like it is nearly as old as the Canyon itself. And equally immovable.

In the wake of the bombing, Jim Chee gets stuck body-guarding the mediator on his trip to Tuba City. Chee hates being a bodyguard, but not nearly as much as Aza Palmer hates having one.

Aza keeps giving Jim the slip. Eventually that is bound to catch up with him. With all of them. With catastrophic results. For multiple definitions of “catastrophe”.

Escape Rating A: I have to admit upfront that I love this series. I listened to the earlier books, written by the author’s father Tony Hillerman, back when I had a long commute. (If you have a long drive ahead of you, audiobooks are marvelous, and mysteries are particularly good. It’s nearly impossible to thumb to the end to find out “whodunnit”.)

When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, I assumed this series was over. So when his daughter Anne revived it in 2013 with the absolutely awesome Spider Woman’s Daughter, it felt like a miracle. Not just for the opportunity to catch up with “old friends” as the protagonists in long-running series often turn out to be, but also because Anne found a way to make the series her own, by shifting much of the perspective from the two male cops, Leaphorn and Chee, to Bernie Manuelito, giving readers a new perspective on the cases and a different perspective on Navajo life in the 21st century. Unlike both of the men, Bernie is often caught between two worlds and two sets of obligations. While she loves her job, and is every bit as good a cop as her husband or any other male officer, unlike them she still keeps up much of her more traditional role as her mother’s oldest daughter, and as her wayward younger sister’s protector. She often finds herself between the rock of her job and the hard place of her family in a way that neither Leaphorn nor Chee ever experienced.

(While the entire series is great, 21 books in may seem daunting to a new reader. And as much as I loved them at the time, I don’t think it is necessary to read the whole thing to get the background, especially since so much has changed. Starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will bring any new reader up to speed with where the characters are now.)

The case in this story is fascinating, although not really about the bombing. One of the things about mysteries in general is that people are always people, both good and bad. In the end, the motives always turn out to be the familiar ones. And as so often happens, the past catches up with the present.

But in this series the surroundings and the background keep the reader enthralled every bit as much as whatever the mystery is. The background of this particular case is particularly intractable. There are multiple competing interests. Every single group involved is extremely passionate about their argument, whether they want to develop the Canyon, preserve it as it is, or something either in between or more extreme.

Even the groups that seem to be on the same side can’t agree with each other. And on top of that there’s a group that just wants to cause trouble and get media coverage, no matter what they have to do to get it. Everyone has a stake, and it seems like everyone wants to shove their stake into someone else’s heart. The FBI is up to their eyeballs in potential suspects for the bombing.

Watching the mediator attempt to herd all of the cats is both interesting and enlightening. In spite of the rumors that surround the event, his role is to referee, not to promote an agenda of his own. He’s very, very good at his job. And it turns out, very, very bad at family. Which is what the case comes back to in the end.

People are always people. But sometimes lions are more than they seem.

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline WinspearIn This Grave Hour (Maisie Dobbs, #13) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #13
Pages: 352
Published by Harper on March 14th 2017
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As Britain becomes engulfed in a second World War, the indomitable Maisie Dobbs is plunged into a treacherous battle of her own when she stumbles on the deaths of refugees who may have been more than ordinary people seeking sanctuary on English soil, in this enthralling chapter in Jacqueline Winspear’s enormously popular New York Times bestselling series
Critics have long sung the praises of Jacqueline Winspear and her bestselling Maisie Dobbs series. In the thirteenth installment, Maisie—“one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting.” (Parade)—is back with more mystery, adventure, and psychological insight.
When readers last saw Maisie Dobbs, it was 1938 and the world was on the brink of war. Maisie herself was on a dangerous mission inside Nazi Germany, where she encountered an old enemy and the Führer himself. In This Grave Hour, a year has passed and Maisie is back home in England—yet neither she nor her nation is safe. Britain has just declared war on Germany and is mobilizing for the devastating battle ahead. But when she stumbles on the deaths of a group of refugees, Maisie suspects the enemy may be closer than anyone knows.
Old fans will be delighted at Maisie’s return and new readers will be hooked by this thrilling installment in Jacqueline Winspear’s “thoughtful, probing series” (Oprah.com).

My Review:

Welcome to the Sitzkrieg, or as it was better known in Britain, the Phoney War.

As this 13th book in the Maisie Dobbs series opens in the fall of 1939, Britain declares war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland. Then nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen for eight months, until Germany invades France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) in May of 1940.

But during the period of this book, nothing much happens on the war front. Everyone knows it will come, and many people, including Maisie herself, have known that war was coming for quite some time, but for the moment, there is a pause. Not a peace by any stretch of the imagination. More like a vast inhaling of breath before the six year sigh of loss after loss.

And a murder. A whole series of murders. Deaths that owe their origin, not to the stresses of the upcoming war, but to the unresolved issues of what people are suddenly forced to call “the previous war” – the Great War, the War that unfortunately did not End All Wars, what history came to call World War I.

Murder, unfortunately for the world but fortunately for Maisie, never takes a vacation.

As the story opens, Maisie is dragged away from the war announcement to meet an old colleague. Dr. Francesca Thomas, in her guise as a member of the Secret Service, prepared Maisie for her undercover task in Journey to Munich. Now Dr. Thomas wants to hire Maisie to investigate the murder of a Belgian refugee from the previous war who has been murdered on the eve of this one.

Dr. Thomas is herself a Belgian national, and is now attached to that embassy. The murder of her fellow countryman is a crime that she wants to redress, before it happens again. She is aware of just how good Maisie is at her job, but she still keeps secrets. It is her nature. And almost her undoing.

While Maisie tracks down the patterns of life and causes of death of the late Frederick Addens, more former Belgian refugees turn up dead. By the same method, and most likely by the same hand. But whose? And more important to Maisie, why?

As Maisie begins to close the net around a suspect she also finds herself deep into a problem much closer to home.

Many children were evacuated from London to the countryside at the opening of the war. One such young girl is now boarded with Maisie’s family. But this little girl is a bit different. Not just because her coloring is noticeably darker than English peaches and cream, but because the little girl refuses to speak, and seems to have no documentation whatsoever.

And Maisie can no more resist solving that little puzzle than she can let a murderer go free. No matter the cost to herself.

Escape Rating B+: As World War II begins, this series reminds me more and more of Foyle’s War. (That there are no books for Foyle’s War continues to be a great source of disappointment!) Like Christopher Foyle, Maisie solves her cases with her brains rather than her fists. Also like Foyle, she is solving murders on the homefront, a task that many people think of as less important than the war. But as it so often turns out, those murders are often not divorced from the war, and in some cases are hidden by it until the investigator steps in.

As much as I love this series, this particular entry didn’t grab me by the throat and hang on quite the way that some of the other books have. I still enjoyed it, but it has the feeling of a pause before the storm, much as Britain itself was in during the Phoney War. Pauses, by their nature, just aren’t as dramatic as crises. And so it proves with this book.

There are, as there often are, two mysteries in front of Maisie. They don’t dovetail as well as they sometimes do. The murder of Frederick Addens, and the ones that follow, are one case, and while important, it feels like merely a case. The little girl’s missing identity is the part of the story that strikes Maisie’s heart, and it is the one that felt most important, even if the string of murders was obviously deadlier and had larger implications, or should have.

And that’s part of what fell just a bit flat for me. The serial murders of Belgian refugees and the people who assisted them felt like it was building up to something bigger. The resolution actually turned out to be small and rather close to home. Also frustrating as regards that particular case, both for Maisie and the reader, is just how much and how obvious it was that Dr. Thomas was, if not telling actual lies, certainly lying by omission every time she spoke. And yet she never seriously emerges as a possible candidate to be the murderer.

On that other hand, the case of the little girl was heartbreaking, particularly for Maisie. She sees herself in the child, as well as the child she lost when her husband was killed. Her heart is engaged with someone who will eventually have to go home. Perhaps. That piece of the story has yet to be resolved.

And I’m very much looking forward to Maisie’s further adventures, to discover just how she resolves it. Or doesn’t. I expect to find out next year during the 2018 Month of Maisie Readalong!

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Review: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Review: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3) by Erika Johansen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Queen of the Tearling #3
Pages: 496
Published by Harper on November 29th 2016
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The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Tearling trilogy.
In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.
To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.
Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed.

My Review:

queen of the tearling by erika johansenThis was awesome. As is the entire trilogy, starting with The Queen of the Tearling and moving right through The Invasion of the Tearling. If you like epic fantasy with a touch of SF, get thee hence and pick up Queen right now. This series is perfectly sized for holiday week binging.

At the beginning of the saga, back in Queen, it seemed as if this was pure epic fantasy. Starting in Invasion and particularly in this final book, we see where the story has its roots in SF. Somehow, in ways that are deliberately not made clear, the ancestors of the Tearling made their way from a near-future dystopian Earth to Tear. And deliberately turned their backs on late 21st or early 22nd technology in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia.

Kelsea, physically locked in captivity by the Red Queen of Mortmesne, takes a psychic journey back down through the timeline to see the origins of that long-ago utopia. While Kelsea is looking through the eyes of young Katie Rice three centuries ago, she sees William Tear’s dream of a perfect world die inch by inch, in ways that still have consequences all these generations later.

The problem with attempting to create a perfect world is that the people who populate it are never perfect. Not because they don’t try, but because people simply aren’t, even when they are not deliberately evil. Not that THAT isn’t a factor as well.

Kelsea starts out the story wanting to save her kingdom. She discovers that in order to save her kingdom, she must save the world. In the end, she can’t even manage to save herself.

And yet she does. And she doesn’t.

Escape Rating A: It takes a while for this final book to build to its epic, and thought-provoking, conclusion. As Fate opens, Kelsea is imprisoned, and has no freedom of action. She’s also not thinking too clearly.

Much of the first half of the book is carried by other characters – lots of other characters. The perspective and point of view switch often, and at first it’s just a bit jarring. The reader just has a grasp of one thread when the perspective switches to someone else at a different place, and sometimes at a different time.

Some of those perspectives are obvious – Kelsea’s regent back in the Tearling, the Red Queen in Mortmesne, various other leaders. But some are down among the rank and file, as we see a “lower-decks” version of the ways in which the world is falling apart, and the ways that everyone is using to even attempt to keep it together. Along with the ones who just don’t give a damn.

And the most important perspective of all, besides Kelsea’s in the present, is Katie’s in the past, at the beginning of the Tearling. While we begin with Katie as a child, as she grows up she sees the colony change from what seems like almost a working utopia to a god-bothered, fear-obsessed, evil theocracy. And that’s what survived to Kelsea’s present and has helped to make the current mess into the giant clusterfuck it now is. And there doesn’t seem to be any way in the present to save the day.

But in the view of the past, there is a whole lot being said about the way that the world, any world, works and doesn’t. It’s not difficult for the reader to draw parallels from the Tearling to 21st century America. Which is also a way of coming full circle, as it’s the results of our NOW that the Tear colonists fled which begins Kelsea’s entire saga.

And the implications of all of that will keep you thinking long after you turn the final page.

Reviewer’s Note: The way that The Fate of the Tearling manages its end reminds me strongly of Inherit the Stars by Laurie A. Green, with its choices about extreme means justifying shattering ends, and who does and doesn’t pay the price. If the ending of The Fate of Tearling leaves you gasping, and you want more with a similar heart-stopping and thought-provoking affect, pick up Inherit the Stars for a purely science fictional twist on some of the same results.

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Review: The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

Review: The Comet Seekers by Helen SedgwickThe Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic, that intertwines the past, present, and future of two lovers bound by the passing of great comets overhead and a coterie of remarkable ancestors
Róisín and François are immediately drawn to each other when they meet at a remote research base on the frozen ice sheets of Antarctica. At first glance, the pair could not be more different. Older by a few years, Róisín, a daughter of Ireland and a peripatetic astronomer, joins the science team to observe the fracturing of a comet overhead. François, the base’s chef, has just left his birthplace in Bayeux, France, for only the second time in his life. Yet devastating tragedy and the longing for a fresh start, which they share, as well as an indelible yet unknown bond that stretches back centuries, connect them to each other.
Helen Sedgwick carefully unfolds their surprisingly intertwined paths, moving forward and back through time to reveal how these lovers’ destinies have long been tied to one other by the skies—the arrival of comets great and small. In telling Róisín and François’s story, Sedgwick illuminates the lives of their ancestors, showing how strangers can be connected and ghosts can be real, and how the way we choose to see the world can be as desolate or as beautiful as the comets themselves.
A beautiful, skillfully crafted, and emotionally perceptive novel that explores the choices we make, the connections we miss, and the ties that inextricably join our fates, The Comet Seekers reflects how the shifting cosmos unites us all through life, beyond death, and across the whole of time.

My Review:

This feels like an easy book to like but a hard book to love. Your mileage, even to Antarctica and back, may vary.

I want to say this is a story about two people who feel connected to comets, and through that somewhat ephemeral connection find themselves connected to each other. At first their connection seems to be an accident, but in the end we discover that some gravitic force has been moving them towards each other all along.

Róisín is an Irish astrophysicist. She has been following comets since she was a child, and wants nothing more than the chance to study them. But Róisín is from a tiny Irish village, and while her family understands her need to see the universe, her first love does not. Every part of her journey away seems to encompass just a bit pain, a worry about what might have been if she and her cousin Liam had ever had a real chance.

Ironically, or coincidentally, or a bit of both, Róisín’s journey around the world, the journey that eventually leads her to Antarctica, keeps intersecting with François’ journey. Francois is younger than Róisín, but as she travels and explores the world and her profession, she keeps almost bumping into Francois and his mother Severine.

Not just when François and Severine make their one great trip, to Edinburgh, but also when Róisín finds herself working on a grant project in Bayeux, the home of the famous tapesty and the place that Severine and François call home.

Much of the story is Severine’s. She finds herself tied to Bayeux by the family ghosts. Down the centuries, from Aelfgifu in the 11th century who worked both herself and Halley’s Comet into the tapestry, all the way to the 21st century and Severine’s own grandmother, members of Severine’s family appear to Severine as rather lively ghosts whenever there is a comet in the sky over Earth. Severine loves her family, both the dead as well as the living, and can’t bear to part from the ghosts. But there is a price to be paid for keeping them close beside her – she has to stay close to them as well. If she leaves Bayeux, she loses her family.

BayeuxTapestryScene15
Where a cleric and Aelfgyva…
BayeuxTapestryScene32
These people marvel at the star
Of course, her son Francois thinks she’s lost her marbles, just as Severine’s mother thought had happened to HER mother. Severine’s mother was astonished to find herself a member of the family ghostly choir upon her own death!

The story begins on a scientific expedition in Antarctica, where Róisín is studying the heavens and chef François is keeping everyone fed. They are both there to get away from, or let go of, losses that they can’t bear around other people. And as their story progresses, we see the stories of all of the comets, and all of the members of François’ family who have been tied to their own particular comets.

Because the ghosts are telling their stories, one last time before they go.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed the individual stories, but they just didn’t quite hang together into a single anything for me. This may explain why I often don’t quite get literary fiction – I keep expecting a plot there isn’t there.

The through story line is how Róisín and François reached the place where they can finally see each other. Not just because he had to grow up first, but because they each needed to experience their own profound losses before they were ready for a possible future together.

But we only glimpse their stories in bits and pieces. Most of the book feels like it is taken up with the visitations of the ghosts, and the different times that each of them experienced a comet passing through the sky. And all of the stories seem to have a tragedy in their hearts, whether it is the death of young Antoine, Severine’s uncle, or the tragic lives of Aelfgifu in the 11th century and Brigitte in the 15th.

We also only see Róisín and François’ lives through the tail of a comet – the narrative is not sustained through their lives. Instead we get glimpses through the 20th and 21st centuries as one comet after another makes its way into, or through, our solar system. So not just Halley’s Comet in 1986, but also Hale-Bopp, Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Hyakutake. It’s been a busy half-century for comets, which provides lots of points to observe their lives – but still not the same as a more straightforward story.

The historical vignettes are not in chronological order either, making it easy for the reader to get a bit lost among the stars. And comets.

Individual sections are often lyrical, but somehow the book just misses cohering into a whole. I’m flailing a bit, trying to convey that this book didn’t quite do it for me. It got close a few times, but just missed.

The Comet Seekers is a debut novel. Those lyrical parts of this story are lovely, and I have hopes for this author’s future work.

Review: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

Review: The Summer Guest by Alison AndersonThe Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Blinded by a fatal illness, young Ukrainian doctor Zinaida Lintvaryova is living on her family’s rural estate in the summer of 1888. When a family from Moscow rents a cottage on the grounds, Zinaida develops a deep bond with one of their sons, a doctor and writer of modest but growing fame called Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Intelligent, curious, and increasingly introspective as her condition worsens, Zinaida keeps a diary chronicling this extraordinary friendship that comes to define the last years of her life.
In the winter of 2014, Katya Kendall’s London publishing house is floundering-as is her marriage. Katya is convinced that salvation lies in publishing Zinaida’s diary, and she approaches translator Ana Harding about the job. As Ana reads the diary, she is captivated by the voice of the dying young doctor. And hidden within Zinaida’s words, Ana discovers tantalizing clues suggesting that Chekhov—who was known to have composed only plays and short stories—actually wrote a novel during his summers with Zinaida that was subsequently lost. Ana is determined to find Chekhov’s “lost” manuscript, but in her search she discovers it is but one of several mysteries involving Zinaida’s diary.
Inspired by fragments of historical truth, The Summer Guest is a transportive, masterfully written novel about an unusual, fascinating friendship that transcends the limits of its time and place. It’s also a contemporary story about two compelling, women, both of whom find solace in Zinaida and Chekhov as they contemplate all that’s missing in their own lives.

My Review:

“She had dared to believe in the truth of the imagination.” But the question that echoes after the book is done is whose imagination? And even more tellingly, whose truth?

This is a story of three women, spread across two eras and three countries, and the commonality they find, or are found to have, over their love of the work of Anton Chekhov.

In 1888, Chekhov and his family spend that summer, and the following summer as summer guests of the Lintvaryov family in Luka, in what is now Ukraine. At that point in his life, he was known but not yet famous, and still making his reputation. But his writings, rather than his medical practice, were the economic support of his family. His parents, his sisters and his brothers. Their support was both a joy and somewhat of a distracting burden.

They took him, or he took them, to Luka, so that he could write and relax. Or the other way around.

He became friends with the oldest daughter of the Lintvaryov house, a doctor like himself, But Zinaida Mikhailovna was no longer practicing medicine. She had been struck down by illness, most likely a brain tumor. In 1888 she was already blind, and her world was closing in.

To keep the internal darkness at bay, Zinaida kept a diary, by writing in a special box designed to keep her lines apart and legible. In 2014, Katya Kendall sends Zinaida’s diary, in the original Russian, to translator Ana Harding.

Katya’s small publishing company, a joint effort between herself and her somewhat distant husband Peter, is failing. Their business of publishing translations of Russian and Eastern European works has never recovered from the recession of 2008, especially as it was followed by so much political unrest in the countries that were their biggest customers.

Katya and Peter hope that the publication of Zinaida’s diary, illuminating as it does a documented but little known piece of Chekhov’s life, will allow them to recover their fortunes. Ana, captivated with the voice of the woman in the diary she has received, hopes that the publication of her translation will make her reputation, and in a way, justify the choices she has made in her life.

But Zinaida takes her under her spell, bringing those long-lost summers to life. In Zinaida’s words, Ana finds truths that captivate her to the point of visiting Luka herself, now in a brief calm between wars, in order to find the truth of the most surprising revelation of the diary – that Chekhov, the master of the play and the short story, left behind one novel, entrusted to the care of his dying friend.

Or did he?

Escape Rating B: The Summer Guest is a story of fiction as the lie that tells the truth. Ana and Katya both find themselves enraptured by Zinaida’s writing across the years, although in much different ways and for completely different reasons.

They both find the long-ago diarist a kindred spirit – a woman who still reached out to the world, even as her own was closing in. As both Katya’s and Ana’s lives seem to be, although not in the same way.

In the end, it is Zinaida’s voice that shines most clearly in the story, in spite of the way that it comes to be. And it is Ana’s search for meaning and purpose that provides the resolution at the end. Even though the diary turned out to be a lie, it still told Ana a truth that she needed to see.

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Review: Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Review: Terrible Virtue by Ellen FeldmanTerrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: feminist history, historical fiction
Pages: 272
Published by Harper on March 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.
The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.
This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.
With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.

My Review:

Margaret Sanger in 1922
Margaret Sanger in 1922

When the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history” was first penned by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 1976, Margaret Sanger had been dead for ten years. But that short, pithy phrase still sums up her life.

On the one hand, all women, at least in Western countries, owe Sanger a debt. Whether one believes that birth control is a blessing, a right, or even a pernicious evil, Sanger made that choice possible. More importantly, she challenged and eventually forced the overthrow of laws that didn’t just make birth control illegal, but made it illegal for women to be educated about the “facts of life” about their own bodies.

And those of us who have chosen the spacing and number of our children, or not to have children at all, can trace that ability, that choice, back to her crusade.

But crusaders and saints are generally terrible people to live with. In Sanger’s case, it seems as if her husbands, her lovers, and especially her own children suffered a great deal from her obsessive devotion to her cause. That we are the better for it doesn’t change the damage to them. But if she had chosen to be a traditional wife and mother, where would we be now?

Terrible Virtue is a fictionalized version of Sanger’s life, told primarily through her own eyes. And we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives, as Sanger is. Not that she deliberately lies, but certainly that she justifies her behavior in her own mind. As do we all.

The occasional insertions of brief comments from the point of view of those closest to her, those who most often found themselves sacrificed on the altar of her crusade, provide a much-needed leavening counterpoint. Sanger gave birth to a revolution, but everyone around her paid the price.

Sanger is charming, and vain, and frequently ruthless in the pursuit of her goals. She’s obsessed with her groundbreaking work, and neglectful of anyone and everyone in her life in pursuit of those goals. She’s a difficult person to sympathize with, and the reader frequently does not, but her life was endlessly fascinating. She pursued a revolution for all of her life, and did so with a keen intellect and an eye for who would best advance the cause that she strove for. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. And occasionally in the middle of her greatest nightmares.

And she built one of the cornerstones of women’s rights in the 20th and 21st centuries – not just the right but also the capability for women to decide when, if, or how many children they would have. She made it possible for middle-class and poor women to have the same choices that rich women have always had, to control the size of their families.

While she may have entered on this crusade to prevent women from suffering the fate of her own mother, 13 children and dead before her time, she gave the gift to us all.

Escape Rating B+: Sanger’s life is fascinating, but she is not a sympathetic narrator. She’s selfish, obsessed, and ignores anyone and anything that doesn’t further her cause. That neglect generally covered her children, her two husbands, and any and all of her lovers. But it is her own children that suffer most for her crusade to let every woman decide how many children to have.

She may have pretended to be a respectable middle-class woman, but she certainly used the privilege she created, and had affairs with many famous and influential men, including but certainly not limited to Havelock Ellis and H.G. Wells. But her life wasn’t ruled by her love affairs – whatever else was going on in her life, she worked on the cause tirelessly and relentlessly.

At the end of the story, readers may respect Sanger, but not like her. She would have been hell to live with. But revolution is never easy. Or bloodless.

Because the story is from Sanger’s point of view, and because she is both self-serving and self-centered, she glosses over the accusations that were later leveled at her work. From her own point of view, she was not really a eugenicist. She did not advocate genocide of any populations. Instead, her goal was always to allow poor women of any race or ethnicity to be able to have the same choice that rich women have always had – the ability to limit the number of children they had to what they desired and would be economically feasible. She believed that the accusations of genocide that were leveled at her were the result of deliberate attempts to discredit her work.

We can’t know today. But we can see the way that governments and legislatures are still trying to denigrate any attempts for poor women to control their own biology in the continued witch hunt that hounds Planned Parenthood, and in the ever increasing number of laws that restrict women’s choices and inject medically incorrect dogma into women’s pursuit of those choices.

This book is an eye opener. A fascinating woman, an amazing life, and an influence that changed the world. And seems to have been the inspiration for Wonder Woman into the bargain!

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Review: Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear + Giveaway

Review: Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear + GiveawayJourney to Munich (Maisie Dobbs, #12) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #12
Pages: 233
Published by Harper on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).
It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.
The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.
Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .

My Review:

It seems very fitting that I’m reviewing Journey to Munich right after The Murder of Mary Russell. If you take a look at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” sidebar for each book on Goodreads, they are effectively listed as “read-alikes” for each other.

And they are. Both feature young women as investigators in the post-World War I era. However, there are a couple of key differences. One is that Mary Russell always has her seemingly immortal partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes, at her side.

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearMaisie Dobbs is singularly alone. She lost her first love to a bomb that exploded in the aid station they were working in. While he physically survived, mentally he was gone. In the interstitial period between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place, Maisie married her second love, and he was killed while flying an experimental plane, causing Maisie to miscarry their only child.

Now Maisie is seemingly without hostages to fortune, which is one of the reasons why the British Secret Service is more than willing to recruit this indomitable and seemingly undauntable young woman. They have a specific job for her.

One of Britain’s most inventive engineering minds has been imprisoned by the Nazis at Dachau. Her mission is to pose as his daughter and bring him home. The diplomatic arrangements have already been made, or so everyone thinks.

But if things were that simple, the Secret Service wouldn’t need Maisie. And if there weren’t wheels within wheels, Maisie wouldn’t also be tasked with the sidejob of rescuing the woman who should have been piloting Maisie’s husband’s fatal plane from one too many errors of her own selfish making.

As Maisie dodges well-meaning British officials, secretive American agents, and brutal Nazi officers, she finally discovers something that has eluded her since the death of her husband and child. Now that she is in fear for her life, she comes to the dawning realization that she truly does want to live.

If she survives.

Escape Rating A: This is a hard review to write. The book is excellent, but the background of this story is frightening – as it should be.

This case takes Maisie to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, just before World War II breaks into a hot war. Two of the framing events are the Anschluss, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “peace for our time” speech. It seems so obvious in retrospect that the peace he thought he had secured was utterly impossible. What is more, at least in this story that was obvious to many people at the time, people who gave warnings that were not heeded.

In the context of the story, both the British Secret Service and those agents who would form the OSS, the forerunner of the American C.I.A. were not only aware that war was coming, but were actively preparing for it. As were at least the power brokers in the British Army.

As were the industrialists, which in the end provides the motives for many of the events on the British side of this story.

At the same time, the background seems to be a human version of the old story about the frog and the pan of boiling water. It is clear that there is an increasingly fearful and oppressive atmosphere in Germany, but most people have managed to adjust most of the time. The water has risen in temperature so slowly that they are able to pretend they haven’t noticed it. Except for the two little girls that Maisie spies playing together in a back alley. If they want to remain friends and play together, they have to hide. One of those little girls is Jewish, and as we know now, will probably be taken to the camps and killed long before the end of the war.

It is also clear from the story that the British Secret Service at least knew perfectly well exactly what the already infamous Dachau was, and that more concentration camps were being built. It is also clear that they already knew that Jews were being systematically turned into “nonpersons” in preparation for the atrocities yet to come, and that there were many organizations working to get people out before the worst happened. As it did.

Ironically, in the midst of the death and darkness, Maisie’s story finally turns toward the light. She is able to forgive the family that caused so much of her grief and pain, and as she lives under constant threat of death, she finally realizes that she wants to live, and to have the chance to use her skills and talents for the greater good, and because working makes her feel alive. She has much to do and is finally ready to do it.

But seeing Nazi Germany through Maisie’s eyes, watching as a sensitive, intelligent, thinking, feeling person experiences some of the worst of humanity or its utter lack, gave this reader chills.

Reviewer’s Note: Considering publication schedules, this book was probably completed a year or so ago. However, for this reader at least, there is a tremendous resonance between the political climate related in this story and the current U.S. presidential campaigns. Your reading may be different, but for this reader, the parallels are difficult to miss.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

As part of this week’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration, I am giving away the winner’s choice a copy of any book in the Maisie Dobbs series, including today’s review book, Journey to Munich. Books will be shipped by The Book Depository, so this giveaway is open to anyone who lives anyplace they ship. For those in the U.S., if you prefer an ebook, you can choose an ebook copy from either Amazon or B&N.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman

Review: Sisters in Law by Linda HirshmanSisters in Law: Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Friendship That Changed Everything by Linda Hirshman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, feminist history, history, legal history
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on September 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the celebrated Victory tells the fascinating story of the intertwined lives of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women to serve as Supreme Court justices.
The relationship between Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew, western rancher’s daughter and Brooklyn girl—transcends party, religion, region, and culture. Strengthened by each other’s presence, these groundbreaking judges, the first and second to serve on the highest court in the land, have transformed the Constitution and America itself, making it a more equal place for all women.
Linda Hirshman’s dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for their own recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. She also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, including employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women’s lives.
Sisters-in-Law combines legal detail with warm personal anecdotes that bring these very different women into focus as never before. Meticulously researched and compellingly told, it is an authoritative account of our changing law and culture, and a moving story of a remarkable friendship.

My Review:

After finishing Then Comes Marriage, I liked it so much that I decided I wanted more Supreme Court. So I picked up Sisters In Law, which is a kind of dual biography of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women on the Supreme Court.

I think I was expecting there to be more about their actual relationship while they served on the court together, but that isn’t quite what I got.

Instead, this book flips from one woman’s history to the other, showing where their stories parallel, and where they differ. It also gives a strong sense of how much their shared experiences being among the first women to advance in the legal profession affected their perspectives. Because for two women who ended up being the first female members of a very exclusive and formerly all-male club, they also seem to have had some very different perspectives on the rights of women, and even whether they should be advocating for those rights from the bench.

What felt to this reader as a telling anecdote occurs at the beginning of each of their careers. Because they were both among the first women to succeed in the legal profession, they both faced a lot of discrimination early on, particularly when it came to getting their first jobs after passing the bar.

Ginsburg’s husband suffered from cancer while they were both in law school. He was not expected to survive, but he fortunately did. Still, the experience clearly left its mark. RBG faced very early on the possibility that her work and her career might have to sustain and support her and their children, emotionally and economically, if she were widowed. She seems to have been strongly affect by exactly what an uphill battle she faced as a woman, and how many roadblocks might be placed in her path.

She has continued throughout her career to champion women’s rights for equality, and in that championing has continued to recognize that not all women are fortunate enough to have the advantages that she had, not just economically, but also by having a husband who supported her career as equal to her own.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s story has a different ending. After being repeatedly turned down for a position as a lawyer, and being offered legal secretary positions instead, she took the step of working for free for a county attorney until he decided that she was, after all, worth her pay as a lawyer. Not many women, then or now, could afford to work for no wages until a man decided that she might be worth hiring.

She seems to have always seen herself as exceptional, and not necessarily been cognizant of the fact that many women are qualified and capable but just not lucky. And that the things that she, as an upper middle class white woman, did not find burdensome were issues that women without her advantages would find very burdensome indeed.

However, like the comment that “only Nixon could go to China”, only a woman who projected so much traditional femininity and rocked the boat so little could have been appointed as the First Woman on the Supreme Court by a Republican. It was only after O’Connor rocked the boat so little that someone like RBG could be appointed, even by a Democrat. Because Ginsburg’s entire career gave notice that she would be a member of the court’s liberal wing, as she has been.

There were lots of sayings in the midst of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s that went something like “In order for a woman to be thought as capable as a man, she has to be twice as good. Fortunately that’s not difficult.” Remember, that this is also the same era that birthed the marvelous phrase, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” In the heyday of the women’s civil rights movement, it seemed like anything was possible. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was often at the forefront of the fight to make that “anything” come to pass, and she often succeeded. Now that she is on the bench, and the times have shifted from change to backlash, she often seems to be fighting a rearguard action to protect as many gains as she can, hoping that the pendulum will swing back.

Reality Rating A-: As is probably clear from the comments above, I found Ginsburg to be more interesting and more sympathetic. The legal positions that she took and the cases that she won are the ones that made my life as a career woman in the 1980s onward much better. Not necessarily easier in a lot of ways, but certainly better. I remember being asked in the late 1970s what my childbearing plans were at more than one job interview, even though that practice had already been ruled illegal. I was able to get credit in my own name during college, where I remember being with my mother when she was asked for the first time if she wanted an account in her name sometime in the 1970s. My mother worked, but her only access to credit was through my father.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped the world to change, often by her own actions and the positions she took. It was a deliberate act. Sandra Day O’Connor also helped the world to change, but it seemed like it happened more because of who she became than what she did. It seemed as though she felt her presence was enough to change the paradigm, which it certainly did. But it didn’t feel like she did nearly as much to extend the ladder to those coming up behind her unless they were just like her.

O’Connor’s position was extremely important, but I found myself not liking many of the stands she took. At the same time, the book acknowledges that she was very pragmatic about what would and wouldn’t work. I like the stands that Ginsburg takes, even when, or especially if, they are taken in dissent.

As a history of women in the legal profession from the mid-20th century and onwards, their joint history is fascinating. Who the reader finds themselves ultimately sympathizing with will depend a lot of the views they come in with. I found the sections on Ruth Bader Ginsburg so interesting that I picked up a copy of Notorious R.B.G., the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I can’t wait to read more.