Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Review: Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History

Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was all too timely as we see a new rise of anti-Semitism around the world and what it means for Jews in the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and especially in the former Soviet Republics.

We all grew up knowing of the Kishinev Pogrom. It's still remembered during memorial services, and for some of my family from the Bessarabia region of Rumania/Russia/Moldavia it was part of our personal history. Zipperstein digs deep into the research, separating fact from myth to the best of his ability based on surviving material. Because the pogrom occurred in the early 20th c., technology in the form of telegraph lines, steamships, trains, and the modern press moved the story forward in a fashion that would have been impossible 100 or even 50 years earlier.

The hate that led to the murders in Kishinev lives on, particularly in the scurrilous writings of the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It laid the groundwork for the big lies of the Nazi era and the Stalinist regime, and continues to fuel hatred today. This is an important work of history, well worth reading so that we never forget how quickly hate can make events spiral out of control.

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Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We've been asking for more diverse SF & Fantasy and Naomi Novik has brought us a fabulous tale with three strong women protagonists, set in a fantasy Russia that's far different than the traditional European settings of earlier fantasies.

Miryem is a Jewish moneylender's daughter, but when her gentle father can't collect on the money owed him she sets out to force the people in her village to pay her, in produce and chickens if not in silver. However, she becomes so successful that she gains a reputation for spinning silver into gold...and that attracts the eye of the otherworldly Staryk, who crave gold.

Wanda is the peasant girl with an abusive father and a hardscrabble life who goes to work for Miryem's family to pay her family's debts, and finds it may hold the key to her own survival and that of her brothers.

Irina is a duke's daughter with the blood of the fey Staryk in her veins, but no expectations of a HEA. However, when presented with a ring of Staryk silver, Irina's life begins to take on new shape as her fey blood calls to her across the lines dividing the Staryk kingdom from the human one.

The three women will come together because of silver and magic, and a winter that never ends, in this spin on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, demon lovers, and the all-too-real history of Jews and pogroms in Eastern Europe. One of the best fantasy novels I've read this year, and I look forward to more of this award-winning author's work.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: Portrait Of A Spy

Portrait Of A Spy Portrait Of A Spy by Daniel Silva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A painfully moving tale of people trying to do the right thing, especially to help women who are held back by government and religious authorities. The Gabriel Allon tales are truly ripped from the headlines and catching up on them is a glimpse into recent historical events. I'm still enjoying them immensely, but sometimes they're so wrenching that I can't read them too close together. It will be a while before I'm ready for #12.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride

Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride by Elizabeth Rolls
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked the story and I enjoyed the characters, but I could barely read it because of the constant back-and-forth switching of POV. Within the same scene we'd jump from head to head and it made the narrative confusing and unnecessarily distracting. This is a shame, because I've enjoyed other Regency romances by Ms. Rolls and I don't recall them having this issue, or perhaps not to this degree. I'll continue to read her work and hope this was a one-off.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review: A Study in Honor

A Study in Honor A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In an all too real, all too dystopian near future, there are still people on whom you can rely, people who have your back. People like Dr. Janet Watson and Sara Holmes.

Watson is a war veteran, scarred and damaged, unable to practice surgery with only one arm and a malfunctioning, ill-fitting bionic replacement for the arm destroyed in battle. Holmes is....Holmes. Enigmatic, elegant, owner of an outstanding DC property, in need of a roommate. And that's the beginning of the adventure as these amazing women team up to solve a mystery with broad implications.

"Holmes and Watson" is one of the most enduring tropes of the last 150 years and O'Dell has put a fresh spin on it with characters who are so very different from the traditional canon, yet bring the sensibilities we've come to cherish in these partners in crime-solving. The mystery is engrossing, the action is non-stop, and I look forward to reading more of these tales.

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Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun read that explores many of our classic horror villains and tropes, but upends them by making the monsters women who cooperate rather than tear things up. Goss has delved deep into literature of the macabre to bring forward characters like Mary Jekyll and her half-sister Diana Hyde (who may be my new role model) Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and so on. However, it was especially delightful in this novel to figure out early on who the woman head of the secret society of mad scientists was. The clues were there, and...

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since I'm one of the few people I know who actually read and enjoyed H. Rider Haggard, I knew it was She Who Must Be Obeyed! Great fun to see Ayesha again.

The best part of these books is how girls are getting it done. No man swoops in to save them, they figure things out and take care of it. I'm looking forward to reading more Adventures of the Athena Club!

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Happy Birthday to the Star-Spangled Banner!

“You underestimate the will of the American people, Doctor.” He poked his finger in the air for emphasis. “When you push us, we push back. Hard. John Bull cannot bully America into surrendering now any more than you could forty years ago. Have you already forgotten the lesson of Fort McHenry?”
He rummaged in his desk and pulled out a tattered newspaper, much folded and creased.
“My mother sent this to me with the letters, a newspaper from home. A Mr. Key wrote a poem about the battle, titled ‘The Defence of Fort McHenry.’ Look here—‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ That’s America, Charley! I won’t ask you to drink to an American victory, but you won’t mind if I have a tot?”
David poured himself some rum while humming a tune. She listened, her head cocked to the side.
“I know that tune—I heard it in the inn where I waited to board the Lady Jane. It is ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ is it not? I recall the people who attempted to navigate its melody often failed miserably.”
“Maybe it’s a song best attempted while drinking for the full effect. But I’m told it is now popular in Baltimore with lyrics based on Mr. Key’s poem—‘And the rockets’ red glare…’”
Charley snickered as his voice strained through the notes. “That tune will never catch on, Captain. Certainly not the way you sing! Best you stick to sailing your ship.”

--Sea Change

Charley's wrong, of course. The poem and song became a part of the American nation. Today it is still our much loved (if difficult to sing) national anthem celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave! Happy birthday, Star-Spangled Banner!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Happy #LaborDay!

“You may have noticed I am wearing one of your shirts this morning.”
“Oh yeah,” Rand murmured. He’d noticed. Looked like she had two puppies in a sack in there, tusslin’ when she moved.
“The reason I am wearing your clothes is because the laundry needs to be done and you have not done it.”
That statement took him out of his contemplation of how much fun it would be to undo the rest of the buttons on his shirt and give those pups some air.
“What?”
“I said, you have not done the laundry, Washburn.” Julia turned back to the grate to squat down and flip the cakes.
“Yeah, well, that’s your job. You’re the wife.”
She turned her head and looked up at him with raised brows. “Is that what you thought? That because that magistrate pronounced a few words over us I would take over all the domestic chores? Who did your laundry before you had a wife?”
Rand shifted and ran his free hand through his hair. “I did my laundry. But I didn’t like it!”
“No one likes it. Here is what I propose… I will continue with the chores I have been doing, the cooking and tending the garden and keeping the cabin neat. I will even do the mending. But you will do the laundry. After all,” she said dryly, “it’s not like you have a lot of acreage to plow out there.”
“No, but I do have to hunt and fish to keep food on the table. I can’t be spendin’ all day doin’ women’s work!”
“If it is women’s work, it is not work this woman ever did. At the estate where I lived there were laundresses who did the cleaning for the entire household. I can cook better than you can, but it seems to me that if you have experience doing laundry, then you can continue to do a better job than I would. Not to mention that if I am spending all my time doing laundry, then I won’t have time to make the pork pie I was planning for dinner. With persimmon cake for dessert.”
There was something wrong with this logic, Rand knew it, but he couldn’t come up with a good argument. It became even harder to think about it when Julia waltzed past him into the house carrying a plate and leaving behind an aroma of griddle cakes, syrup, and woman.

--Smuggler's Bride

Happy Labor Day to all the hard working American women and men who keep the laundry clean, the fish caught, and the persimmon cake on the table. This is your day to be recognized, and for all of us to be aware of how much we depend on the labor of others. Thank you!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Review: Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories

Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful break from summer's heat, with Kelly's trademark stories of rather ordinary people being extraordinary human beings. They're not only doing well, they're doing good, what's called tikkun olam--"repairing the world" among those of us who don't celebrate Christmas, but still enjoy a solid, weepy love story.

Each of these tales has its own charm as lives are made better and love discovered during the holiday season. I miss the old Regency Christmas collections that used to come out each year, but it's nice to know some of the best authors in the genre continue to release their holiday best.

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