Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chinawoman's Chance: First In A Series About A Pioneering Woman Lawyer

When I nominated Chinawoman's Chance on Kindle Scout for an opportunity to be published by Kindle Press, I hadn't heard of its real historical protagonist Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first woman admitted to the bar in California in 1884.   This historical mystery novel wasn't selected by Amazon.  So author James Musgrave self-published and offered all those who had nominated his book a free copy.  I eagerly accepted one, and I am now posting my honest review.

                           


My original intention was to praise this cover's illustrations for drawing my attention to the book.  Yet when I copied and pasted the cover to this blog, I noticed for the first time that the title isn't very legible.  If I hadn't already known that the title was Chinawoman's Chance, I wouldn't have learned it from this cover.   Is the legibility of the title on the cover important for a self-published book?  I would argue that it is important. Readers often look at the cover before anything else on a  book vendor site.  Not being able to read the title creates a bad first impression for a reader deciding whether or not to buy the book.

Next I turn to the series title which is Portia of the Pacific. Yes, titles are very important to me.  They influence me more than cover illustrations.   I have an attraction/repulsion relationship with Shakespeare's Portia.   So  I was attracted by the series title because I love a woman taking a professional role that was forbidden to women in Shakespeare's day.  I love Portia's speech.  Yet  I am repelled by the bigotry toward Shylock that motivated her.  I see Shylock as the victim in Merchant of Venice.   His feelings of outrage over having no rights are used against him.  Portia is clever, but she is supporting a system in which Jews can't get justice.

 The fictional Clara Shortridge Foltz isn't bigoted toward the Chinese.   Not only does she have a Chinese client,  but she helps to thwart a plot against the Chinese community. Yet I learned from Musgrave's acknowledgements that the real Clara Foltz was actually prejudiced against the Chinese and would never have had a Chinese client as she did in Chinawoman's Chance. For me, there is a tension between the real Clara and the fictional Clara.  I ended up feeling as ambivalently toward the protagonist as I do toward Shakespeare's Portia.  

For those who want to see what Clara Shortridge Foltz looked like, I found a public domain photo on Wikipedia.

                           
 
I admired the role played by the fictional Clara Foltz, but I felt that the novel fell short as a mystery.  There was a plot twist that I didn't find credible from a police procedural perspective.   I also felt that the resolution was formulaic.  I had seen it before a number of times, so it didn't surprise me.

I also had a problem with a Chinese character's name.  Musgrave said in his acknowledgements that he researched Chinese culture.  If so, I don't understand why he didn't seem to know that Guan Shi Yin, also known as Kwan Yin, is a Bodhisattva.  A Bodhisattva is someone who has reached Buddhist enlightenment and decided to help others achieve it.   Kwan Yin is also known as the Goddess of Compassion.  I was taught a mantra for Kwan Yin "Namo Guan Shi Yin pusa."  The English translation would be: Homage to Kwan Yin, compassionate and wise person.  The character in Chinawoman's Chance who was given this name was the reverse of compassionate.   I therefore considered it culturally inappropriate.

I actually did like most of  Chinawoman's Chance. Musgrave's version of Clara Foltz  has so much potential as a protagonist. Her developing friendship with a Chinese woman who escaped prostitution and encouraged independence for other women was also wonderful.   Yet as a mystery it didn't quite measure up, and the instance of cultural inauthenticity that I mentioned really bothered me.

 

                              

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Aurelia: Serving Roma Nova in the 1960's

I have reviewed three of the alternate history Roma Nova books by Alison Morton on this blog.  The titles are linked to their reviews.  They were Inceptio, Perfiditas and Carina.  All three feature Carina Mitela as the protagonist.  With Aurelia , I begin a prequel trilogy taking place in the 20th century and centering on Carina's grandmother, Aurelia Mitela.  I liked what I saw of Aurelia in Carina's books.  So I was happy to receive the first book focusing on her as a gift from the author via Book Funnel, and this is my honest review.

                             


When I compare the two protagonists in the Roma Nova series, I have to say that I prefer Aurelia.   I feel that Aurelia is more level headed, and that she has better judgment than Carina.

 I saw a review of this novel on Goodreads that questions Aurelia's romantic judgment.  Frankly, I thought Aurelia's romantic judgment was much better than Carina's.   I won't get into specifics because those would be spoilers,  but I believe that your mate should be the person who you can always count on to stand by you.  Carina forgave far too much.  It seems to me that Aurelia was able to put her life in perspective when it came to romance, and made a decision that was healthier for her in the long run.

Another major difference between Aurelia and Carina is that Aurelia necessarily had a more powerful support system because she was born into a privileged position in Roma Nova.   She didn't have to learn the ropes. She didn't have to try to fit into a culture that was alien to her as Carina did when she unexpectedly had to start a new life in Roma Nova.  It's a good thing that Carina is so adaptable because she needed that flexibility.  She didn't have Aurelia's advantages.   She had to invent a support system of her own, though Aurelia herself was always someone she could rely on.  In a crisis, Carina transforms herself and finds new options, but Aurelia is as constant as the North Star.  I perceive both of them as strong women with differing approaches that were shaped by their experiences.

I was interested in the opportunity we had to explore a new setting in Aurelia.  Aurelia was sent to Prussia on an assignment that was ostensibly diplomatic, but really involved the collection of intelligence.  In the Roma Nova alternate continuity, Germany was partitioned into a number of sovereign nations in the aftermath of the Great War.  Prussia was one of them. This was apparently a lasting solution to the threat of German militarism. There was no World War II.

In Prussia, Aurelia was faced for the first time with institutionalized sexism.  Respectable Prussian women were restricted to the domestic sphere.  Prussian men seemed incapable of understanding the matriarchal culture of Roma Nova.  I wondered if attitudes in Prussia might have changed over time.  Would Carina have been met with the same uncomprehending prejudice if she visited Prussia in the 21st century in the course of her duties?

I look forward to continuing to explore the differences between the way Carina responded to situations, and how Aurelia reacted to similar circumstances in the two remaining books of the Aurelia trilogy.





                                                                 

                               

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters #3)

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions is the first of Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters series that I've read, but Tara reviewed the previous volume, Lady Cop Makes Trouble on this blog here.

I didn't feel that I needed an orientation to the Kopp Sisters that wasn't provided by Amy Stewart in this book.   So for me Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions could stand alone.

                         

 When I learned that the Kopp Sisters and other individuals portrayed in this novel really existed, I hoped to be able to find online content freely available that I could link to in this review.  I did find a page on the Library of Congress website devoted to Constance Kopp which included numerous newspaper articles about her.   As the first female sheriff's deputy in the U.S., I thought she would merit a Wikipedia page,  but such a page doesn't exist at this point.  Amy Stewart says that she found the Kopp Sisters on Ancestry.com which is a commercial website.  Serious researchers on the Kopp Sisters would need to pay Ancestry.com for their content.

There was a woman who was assisted by Constance Kopp who I thought was extraordinary by the name of Edna Heustis.  I wanted to know what happened to her after the events of the novel, but I learned that Amy Stewart had fictionalized her to an important degree.   I wondered if fictionalizing real individuals in ways that contradict the historical record could be justified in historical fiction.  Edna Heustis isn't a well-known individual.  Nor is it likely that she will ever be the subject of a full scale biography.  Some might argue that she is too minor for her portrayal to be the subject of controversy.  I will leave the issue up to my readers who may have their own opinions on this matter.

I really liked  Constance Kopp's intervention to restore freedom to young women who had been condemned as "wayward".  This is based on the concept that women are property who couldn't have aspirations or ambitions of their own.  This idea had persisted for centuries and was widely believed in 1916 when Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions took place.

Readers who are interested in early 20th century law enforcement, and how it impacted women who'd been stigmatized as "wayward" will be interested in reading the latest Kopp Sisters novel.
















                            

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Pearl Sister Blog Tour and Review

The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley is the fourth book in Riley's Seven Sisters series.   I haven't read the first three novels, but I am aware of the premise of the series. These books are about seven adopted sisters whose novels reveal the truth of their genetic origins.

 I recently reviewed Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate here .  It dealt with adoptions that were a crime against children which is not at all the same focus as Riley's.   It's important for me to say at this point that I believe that genuine parents are those who care about the children involved.  Based on the portrayal of parenting in this book, it seemed to me that Lucinda Riley agrees with me.  I am happy to say that the Seven Sisters series isn't about proving whether birth parents or adoptive parents are more legitimate.   It's apparently about the journey of the individual sisters, and how each of them are impacted by it.

I was selected by the publisher for the blog tour of The Pearl Sister.  An ARC was provided to me via Net Galley in return for this honest review.

                             

There were two elements in the description that interested me.  The first is that CeCe, the protagonist, is an artist.  I love reading about artists.   Last year I reviewed  a novel that contained a female character who lived in impressionist Claude Monet's village, and aspired to be a great artist like Monet.  It was called Black Water Lilies and I reviewed it here. The other theme in The Pearl Sister which I find fascinating is Australian aborigine history and culture.

I have to say that the opening section of this novel which took place in Thailand didn't impress me.  CeCe seemed to be drifting, and I didn't consider her an example of a strong woman protagonist at that point.  The past to which she wanted to connect was in Australia, not Thailand.  I just wanted her to get on with it.  Other readers may be interested in CeCe's relationship with a male character known to her as Ace. I could have done without it.  I thought it was an irrelevancy.

We are introduced to the Australian background by means of Kitty, an early 20th century British immigrant to Australia.  I considered her an ambivalent character.  She was appealing to me when she made unconventional choices, but became increasingly unsympathetic over time.   Some readers may see her role in business as feminist, but I didn't consider this a positive development in her life because she wasn't fulfilling her own ambitions.  I didn't admire the fact that she was making herself unhappy.

It was at this point that the sections devoted to CeCe's life showed her in a more active phase in which she reclaimed her sense of self, and renewed her own aspirations with the help of Australian aborigine sources of support.  CeCe came into her own as a protagonist at the same time that Kitty receded for me.  It became very much CeCe's story, and I was pleased with the arc of her development as a character.

The final section transitions to the next book in the series which will apparently be focused on Tig who feels strongly connected to animals and is a passionate advocate for their rights.   Since this is a focus that is of great importance to me, I look forward to the fifth Seven Sisters novel.




Sunday, December 31, 2017

Crossing The Horizon: First Female Transatlantic Flight Also Rans

Female aviators are one of the focuses of this blog.  So when I won a copy of Crossing The Horizon by Laurie Notaro from Goodreads, I knew that I'd be reviewing it for Flying High Reviews.  This novel deals with three women who wanted to be the first to fly across the Atlantic.   All three really existed. Two of them were female aviators. We know that Amelia Earhart is credited with having been the first woman to have accomplished this goal.  So why should readers invest their time in a book about women who were also rans?  Well, I was interested in the stories of the two women who could fly a plane. 

                         

As far as I'm concerned, the aviator protagonists were the only ones who counted.  They were British Elsie Mackay and American Ruth Elder.  I absolutely loved both of them. Elsie was a courageous rebel against the expectations of her aristocratic family.  Ruth was a pragmatic survivor who could have made a success at any career given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the third woman included weakened the book.  Not only couldn't she fly a plane, but pilots refused to work with her.   Frankly, I think that Crossing The Horizon viewpoint character Mabel Boll had a personality disorder, and that she didn't belong in this novel.  Wanting to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic isn't enough.  I might want to be the first woman to fly to Mars, but I have no space training or any skills relevant to such a mission.  So I wouldn't expect NASA to accomodate me.   At the time, flying across the Atlantic was just as dangerous as a flight to Mars would be now.  Mabel Boll was also surplus weight. An extra fuel tank would have been more valuable for an Atlantic flight than a passenger who couldn't pilot the plane in an emergency. Notaro thinks that Boll provided comic relief, but I found her an irritant.  I am not the only one who thinks so.  I've encountered other reviews from readers who could have done without Mabel Boll.

Although Amelia Earhart's 1928 transatlantic flight made Elsie Mackay's and Ruth Elder's 1927 attempts seem irrelevant, Notaro does point out in an interview that Earhart was a passenger on that flight.  Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932 was much more significant for the history of aviation.  Yet it seems to me that Elsie Mackay particularly ought to be honored for her flight because not only was she an actual pilot of the plane, her east-west transatlantic attempt was more challenging.  It wasn't until 1936 that Beryl Markham managed to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in the east-west direction.

I feel that it was important for me to learn about the existence of Elsie Mackay and Ruth Elder through the pages of Crossing The Horizon.  I'm glad that Laurie Notaro chose to remember them in her first historical novel.







                           

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Carina: A Roma Nova Novella


In her latest entry in the Roma Nova series, Alison Morton decided to set a novella between the events of the first two novels that I've already reviewed.  They are Inceptio and Perfiditas. Click on the titles to access the reviews.  I received Carina as a gift from the author via Book Funnel and this is my honest review.
                         
                               36644493
                              
Carina deals with Praetorian protagonist Carina Mitela taking on a mission that turns out to involve a rather large risk.  As always, the stalwart Carina did what had to be done.  It was a suspenseful narrative.  Since I'd already read Perfiditas, which takes place after these events, I knew that Carina would survive.  What I didn't know was whether there would be serious consequences for her actions.  I also didn't know how her superiors in the Praetorian Guards would react.  

My favorite scene in this novella made me a huge fan of Carina's  bond with her grandmother Aurelia.  Aurelia's experience allowed her to make a strong statement of support for Carina which I really appreciated.       

  I continue to be disappointed by the lack of significant Pagan religious content in a community founded by Pagan identified Romans who left Rome because the practice of their religion was outlawed.  In Carina there is a reference to a ritual that sounded like it might have played an important role in the lives of Roma Novans, but it's only briefly described not shown as part of the experience of the characters who attended.  I understand why it was given such short shrift.  Morton is very plot oriented, and this ritual was only incidental to the plot.

Yet I also had another area of disappointment. The fact that Carina took the central character to the independent Republic of Quebec intrigued me.   I hoped that I would learn about another corner of this alternate universe, but this book reveals relatively little about Quebec in Morton's continuity. Again, I understand why there are no long passages about the alternate Canadian milieu.  They would have constituted a digression which would be inappropriate in a fast paced thriller.   I just wanted to know more about Carina's world. 

On the other hand, I thought that the use of "Aquila" as a code recognition sign in communications was a very nice touch in Carina.  Aquila means eagle in Latin.  The eagle was the emblem of ancient Roman legions which had tremendous symbolic significance.   I found an article about it here.  So the utilization of "Aquila" reminds us of Roman military tradition and subtly reinforces Roma Nova's cultural context.

Carina performed the function of being a bridge between Inceptio and Perfiditas very well.  It filled in some blanks in Carina's life while giving us another exciting adventure.
                 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

I knew Jennifer Chiaverini as the quilt novel author.  She introduced me to the idea that quilts were signposts for the Underground Railroad in The Runaway Quilt which I loved.  I knew that she'd been writing biographical novels of female historical figures, but I didn't sit up and take notice until it was Ada Lovelace in Enchantress of Numbers.  I've always wanted to know more about her role in the development of the early precursors to computers.   So I requested an ARC from Net Galley and was delighted when I was approved by the publisher.   This is my review.

                                   34555334

Most discussions of Ada Lovelace begin by mentioning that she was Byron's daughter and that her parents scandalously separated.    What's really astonishing in the context of the period is that her mother got custody of Ada.   Children were considered property belonging to their fathers in 19th century England.  In this case, it came down to the fact that Ada's mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke known as Annabella to her friends, came from a wealthy family and Byron was debt-ridden.   Debt was a major motivation for his marriage.  So it seemed to me that Annabella's family was in a good position to buy justice for their daughter.  It's probably just as well because the only time Byron did have custody of a daughter, he relinquished his parenting responsibility by packing her off to a convent.

Based on Chiaverini's depiction, Annabella wouldn't receive any awards for parenting herself.  Yet she should be credited with making certain that Ada followed in her footsteps by pursuing mathematics.   This was an extraordinary education for a daughter of the aristocracy.  According to the article about her on Wikipedia, Annabella's parents hired a Cambridge professor as her tutor.
 If Ada hadn't had Annabella as her mother, it's unlikely that she would have been so advanced mathematically.

 In The Enchantress of Numbers, Ada's scientific mentor Mary Somerville told Ada about her conflict with her own parents over her studies.   It was widely believed at that time that women's health would be jeopardized by intellectual stimulation.  Mary Somerville's experiences caused Ada to appreciate her mother's encouragement of her scientific inclinations.  I had never heard of Mary Somerville before I read this book, and was glad of the opportunity to learn about this foremother for woman scientists.

We can't really know about Ada's contribution to Charles Babbage's conceptualization of his proto-computers the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine.  This is a topic that is fodder for  speculation for historical novelists like Chiaverini.  I made the same argument about Einstein and his first wife in my review of The Other Einstein here.  I feel that it's just as legitimate to claim that Ada made a significant contribution as to claim that she made none, and that it was all Babbage's idea.  I believe that Chiaverini is persuasive about what she attributes to Ada Lovelace.

Ada's written notes are clearly attributable to her, and they show her to be a woman ahead of her time.   The Enchantress of Numbers displays her context.  She had influences, and sources of support which do not lessen her achievements.   Isaac Newton is quoted as having said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of giants."  Jennifer Chiaverini helps us to identify who Ada might have stood on.   Yet every designer of a computer algorithm stands on Ada's shoulders because she created the very first such algorithm.