Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mad Maggie--Alternative Healer and Eco Activist

Mad Maggie and the Mystery of the Ancients by Rod Raglin probably isn't going to be widely reviewed, but I think it deserves to be considered by more readers.  This isn't just because the author gifted it to me. 

 Maggie Whiteside, the heroine of this unusual romance, heals people with herbs and paranormal abilities.  She  also stands in opposition to a developer who intends to destroy the forest where she lives.   Yet those activities aren't what makes her stand out.  Maggie is a schizophrenic who is portrayed with sensitivity.  A schizophrenic heroine who gets her own HEA? I definitely haven't seen that before in a romance.  

 I love it when genres are expanded beyond their previous limits.  This can happen in indie books like this one because the author doesn't have to listen to the gatekeepers of the genre telling him or her that the audience doesn't want to read that sort of thing.   And maybe the gatekeepers are right about the majority of readers, but there are also readers like me who are interested in anything that's different.

                                       



I won Eagleridge Bluffs, another Eco-Warriors romance by Rod Raglin, in a Booklikes giveaway some time ago. That book has a new title and a new cover now.  It might have been revised.  At the time, I found an aspect of the heroine's portrayal  very unrealistic.   When I learned that this book's protagonist is schizophrenic, I wondered if I would be making similar comments about her.  Instead I was convinced by the characterization of Maggie because Raglin did his homework this time.  He cites a memoir of a schizophrenic woman in his acknowledgements.  

Maggie's psychotic episodes are severe and disruptive.   She faces prejudice and medications with significant side effects, but her healing and paranormal gifts are also portrayed as very real.  Some readers may not believe that Maggie could cope with schizophrenia in the way that she did,  but people need to realize that psychiatry hasn't been able to cure schizophrenia with medication.   Medication only controls the condition temporarily.  So there's a great deal that isn't known or understood about schizophrenia. 

Readers who don't prefer fantasy may wonder if this novel is too fantastical for them.   I'd say that the fantasy content represents only about 10% of the narrative.  Maggie's alternative healing involves more herbalism than magic.   Since the romantic hero is a lawyer, there is actually far more legal content than fantasy. 

Maggie is such an unexpected protagonist with so many barriers to achieving her dreams that I found her inspiring.  I cheered for every single one of her victories.  I feel that few romance heroines deserved HEA more.



                            

Monday, February 20, 2017

Queen Mary's Stories Come Alive in A Bridge Across the Ocean by @SusanMeissner

A Bridge Across the OceanA wonderful story...or stories, I should say. The Queen Mary is def going on my bucket list. The ship went from being a luxurious ocean liner to a troop carrier called the Gray Ghost to a war bride transport.... What a boat! The author touches on each with class and vivid detail. I was entranced.


The modern story follows a young woman with a gift she didn't want--the ability to see ghosts, hear them, be stalked by them at times. She buries this ability, treats it like a DISability for most of her life, but a friend from her past asks her for help and before she knows it, Brette is embroiled in a mystery from post-WWII. Did Annaleise jump or was she pushed? There's a war bride on the ship who isn't really a war bride. What's her story? Will we sympathize or...?

And it slowly unfolds in between chapters of the modern-day tale.

Each heroine is unique. There's no confusing any of the women in the past or the present. This makes the time changing easy to follow. Each woman has a tale to tell--except Phoebe. And that is my only complaint. Though mentioned throughout the tale and though she is actually just as important as Simone in a way, there's nothing about her before she became a war bride. Simone and Katrine, however, we get their entire backstories. And while I respect maybe Pheobe's wouldn't have been as interesting, that lack of her story made it too obvious she wasn't going to be a huge part of the mystery and that made the tale less suspenseful. It was like halfway through, I knew Pheobe was not going to be relevant. It took away some element of surprise.

I loved the writing, the history of the ship, the morals about both forgiveness and "If you don't ask or want to know, nobody is going to tell you or help you.."

I received an ARC on Amazon Vine.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Stolen Beauty: Blog Tour Review and Giveaway


 I'm interested in art history, and there was a Klimt shaped hole in my art education.   The only thing I knew about Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was that he painted The Woman in Gold.   Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese takes the perspective of two real women.  One is Adele Bloch-Bauer, a prominent art patron.   The Woman in Gold is a portrait of her, but she also had an ongoing relationship with Klimt.   The other perspective is that of her niece, Maria Altmann, who eventually sued Austria to regain her family's ownership of The Woman in Gold.  There are a number of non-fiction accounts of this well-known case, but I love the immediacy of  skilfully written historical fiction.   So I joined the Stolen Beauty blog tour and received an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley.

                                     


Although I learned a great deal about Klimt from this book, I am going to focus on the women for Flying High Reviews.  I was more interested in Adele's narrative than Maria's.  Both were courageous women, but Adele was more complex.

I noted that Adele gave up on becoming an artist as a child because she wasn't being taught to draw human beings.   She didn't realize it, but this issue had held back woman artists for centuries.   Women weren't allowed to learn human anatomy because it would empower them sexually as well as artistically.  Society was invested in keeping women ignorant of men's bodies as well as their own.

I was also interested in the fact that Adele chose to marry a man who promised her freedom.   That was her priority in the selection of a husband--not love, attractiveness or wealth.   He certainly had wealth, but her own family was wealthy.   She was accustomed to always having whatever she needed, yet her strict mother made her feel very constrained.  She couldn't go where she pleased or follow her interests.   So she married for independence, and for the most part she got it.   She met artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals.  She founded her own salon to discuss the issues of the day.  She also founded an art museum and selected its collection.  The Woman in Gold made her prominent and admired.

Adele tried to instill the importance of independence in her niece, Maria.   Maria grew to adulthood in a world that was very different from Adele's.   Adele's influence turned out to be a significant source of strength that allowed Maria to survive WWII.

Adele's family was Jewish, but religion was largely irrelevant to her.  She grew up in a completely secular home.  Adele encountered anti-semitism, but it never impacted her life very much.   Maria, on the other hand, lived to see the rise of Nazi Germany and the invasion of Austria.    Her uncle's collection of Klimts disappeared when the Nazis looted the art of Jewish families. 

This brings me to Maria's litigation with Austria.  I admit that I originally wasn't sympathetic to Maria's point of view, and I found the case that her lawyer made troubling from a feminist perspective.  Yet I eventually came around to the argument that Austria shouldn't benefit from Nazi theft.

I was glad to learn about the woman behind the famous Klimt portrait.  It was also important for me to find out more about the Jews of Austria during WWII.  I found Stolen Beauty an enlightening and provocative historical novel.   

                                 
                                       Laurie Lico Albanese
                              Photo credit: Martha Hines Kolko
 
Blog Tour Wide Giveaway

Win a signed copy of STOLEN BEAUTY by Laurie Lico Albanese (3 total prizes)! The contest is open until February 14th.


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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Women Exhibit All Kinds of Remarkable Bravery in The Alice Network @KateQuinnAuthor

The Alice NetworkAmazing. Just when I thought I'd read every type of WWII story out there..and I think I can no longer be surprised, I am. This novel is riveting, thrilling, suspenseful, heartwarming, and funny! I fell in love with the characters, felt what they were feeling, cheered and cried with them.

There's a 1947 heroine who is struggling with death. She has lost her brother and her family, rather than banding together, seems to drift further apart and Charlie gets herself into a bit of trouble... At first she comes across as a tad spineless but as the novel unfolds, going back and forth between Charlie in 47 and Eve in 1915...we see two women grow backbones and experience life. There are different levels of bravery in this novel, each one just as important as the last.

Bravery isn't just spying in enemy territory. It's also facing demons from your past, loving after you've been hurt, standing up to those who wish to control you, laughing in the face of evil, finding joy in a time of war. We learn from Lili as well as Eve and Charlie.

Terrific novel. I enjoyed traveling the French countryside with these women as well as experiencing their harrowing adventures. I think this book is a wonderful way to honor the women spies of both wars.

I won an ARC of this on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ghost Talkers: A Novel Depicting A Secret Paranormal Aspect of WWI

My reviews on this blog dealing with Madame Presidentess  about Victoria Woodhull  and The Witch of Napoli  here , show my interest in spiritualist mediums.  This is why I wanted to read and review Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.   The premise is that during WWI the British secretly utilized mediums to pass on information from recently dead soldiers to military authorities.  This is an extraordinary concept.  So I thought it would make for a highly unusual novel.

                                     


 Ghost Talkers reflects the world wide predominance of women among spirit mediums.  This doesn't mean that it's impossible for men to be mediums.   There actually are male mediums shown in this novel, but mediums are usually women.  The reasons are largely based on cultural traditions and gender stereotypes.   Mediums must be receptive to spirits. That ability to be receptive is a strength in the context of mediumship, not a weakness.  Gifted men must overcome the idea that receptivity is unmasculine in order to accept that they are mediums. 

Kowal presents mediumship as a way for women to play an important role in the war.   It was not the only role that women played in WWI. We know that women were nurses, ambulance drivers and espionage agents.  There were also woman pilots in WWI.   See  Inspirational Women of World War IGhost Talkers does include nurses, and Kowal prominently mentions ambulance drivers in her historical note.

The women in the British medium corps are presented  as strong individuals.  It's mentioned that some were Afro-Caribbean immigrants.  One Afro-Caribbean medium was a named minor character. Yet the main protagonist was Ginger Stuyvesant, an American whose mother was English.  I ended up respecting Ginger for her courage.   Her romance with British Captain Ben Hadford is very central to the plot, and her last scene with him was very moving.

I give this book an A for originality.  It may be a candidate for my favorite read of 2017, but it's much too early in the year to know that for certain.  It would be wonderful if Mary Robinette Kowal wrote further about the women of the medium corps.   


                                  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Orphan's Tale: A Novel About the Sisterhood We Choose

The Orphan's TaleI didn't know what to expect when I picked up this novel. "The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff." First of all, I thought The Nightingale was just okay and I didn't like WfE at all, but except for one novel about two sisters, Pam Jenoff's novels have been winners for me. And that is somewhat funny. In The Winter Guest, Jenoff wrote of two biological sisters who didn't get along well. In this novel, we meet two women who are not sisters, who only know each other not even a year, yet are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. It's the sisterhood of choice...

And it was thoroughly engrossing. I loved it. I loved meeting two strong-minded women determined to fight the Nazis in what little ways they can. Astrid, a Jew, chooses to hide in plain sight, on the trapeze! Right in front of their faces.. That's sticking it to them! Noa fights back in a not-so-in-your-face-way by rescuing a Jewish baby. In a time of war and terror, each woman finds love and lets their formerly-hurt selves love again.

The circus was interesting too. It didn't go crazy with details. I didn't learn about elephants and tigers, or even about the freak show, but I did learn about flying acrobats, the traveling town to town, the way they pitched the big top. (I'd love to see that)

I enjoyed the friendship and bond the girls developed. Even though distrust reared its ugly head at times, they bonded and looked out for each other and the rest of the circus.

What I didn't like was the sudden romance with Luc. It came abruptly and too fast to be believable. I also didn't like that in the last quarter, it's like both girls lose their blooming minds. Noa loses her marbles over Luc and Astrid loses it over Peter. Astrid and Peter, I could understand, but screaming that you're a Jew and letting yourself be kicked where it matters...really? What the heck is wrong with you? All of a sudden, two intelligent girls both lost their minds.

But the fact I got mad enough at them to scream and nearly throw the book shows how deeply I cared and that's the sign of good, engaging writing.

If you're tired of the traditional WWII tales...do check this one out.

I got this via Amazon Vine.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Margaret Sanger: Champion of Women in Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Terrible Virtue"A woman's duty: To look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, to have an ideal, to speak and act in defiance of convention."

And that is what Margaret Sanger did. She looked everyone in the face with a go-to-hell look in her eyes, and she spoken and acted in defiance of convention. Having watched her mother die older before her time, having raised 13 children, lost about 5, Margaret both loved and hated her mother. She loved her mother yet was disgusted with what her mother was, with what she let herself be: a broodmare...a baby incubator.

This novel is told in the first person, as though Margaret is looking back on her years and her life, her goals, trials, losses, loves. Personally, I loved it. First-person writing can make or break a book. In this case, it worked. The writing was engrossing; the memories were vivid. I never felt as though they were being narrated to me, but that I was living them myself.

I went with her from being called a devil's child and falling over her feet in the woods to her first marriage and the birth of her three children and the battles she fought inside herself between what she should want (what society told her she should want...a loving husband, a nice house, three adorable children) and what she really wanted (free love with whomever she pleased, a basic place in the middle of artists and socialists, and her main child: the birth control movement.

She takes on lovers and never hides who she is. She neglects her children for her one great passion. In her mind, it's better to deprive three than to let thousands of women and unwanted children everywhere suffer. And yet, she suffers herself later.

And was she a Nazi? No. We find later in the novel how that accusation came to pass and that it was a misunderstanding, a twisting of events, a misinterpretation.

I learned so much about this woman, this champion of all women. The only thing I didn't like about the novel was how vague it was about early contraception. Up until 65%, Margaret kept preaching the importance of family limitation yet didn't really offer a solution for it. This came later, after her Europe travels...but in the meantime, like all the women writing her desperate letters, I kept wondering, "What exactly are you wanting the women to do?? French letters are not affordable."

But eventually she got there, with her little possets, or womb veils. And she went to jail, albeit briefly, for her beliefs...and her sister was never the same, as she went to jail too and had a hunger strike.

But she got there...and as a result, ladies, we got there. Us modern women have the means as well the right to choose.

We can thank Margaret for that. I highly recommend reading this novel.

I purchased it via Amazon.