Tag Archives: female authors
“The Locked Room (Ruth Galloway Mysteries #14)” by Elly Griffiths
I didn’t MEAN to read this book! I had work to do! Obligations! Even a deadline… But I’m totally hooked on this mystery series. Why would I want to read a book set early in the Covid pandemic, see my favorite characters face lock-down? I read it anyway…
A few years have passed, and Ruth Galloway’s daughter Kate is growing up fast. Ruth and Kate discover a family secret that astonishes and then delights them. Cathbad (everybody’s favorite Druid) gets a severe case of Covid. Kate’s father Nelson gets knocked unconscious, and the two meet on the astral plain (or something like that) and save each other’s lives.
Elly Griffiths has announced there will be only one more Ruth Galloway mystery, to be released in Spring of 2023. Too bad! But I can’t wait to find out what Griffiths decides to write in the future.
“The Last White Rose – a Novel of Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir
Historical fiction is my guilty pleasure, and I’ve read extensively about the Wars of Roses and the Protestant Reformation in England. Elizabeth of York married Henry VII of the House of Lancaster, establishing the Tudor line through their son Henry VIII. Why read this when I know the outcome? Guess I’m just a sucker for royalty, castles, etc.
One controversy about Elizabeth of York is whether she was a reigning Queen (hence her husband’s equal) or a Queen consort. By blood, it can be argued that her claim to the throne was a strong as her husband’s, and that she should be considered Queen Elizabeth I. Royal sons and daughters weren’t considered equally in matters of succession.
Reading this book is a reminder that dirty tricks, political betrayal and “alternative facts” are nothing new in public life. The consequences were unpredictable – some turncoats were pardoned, others were tortured to death. Some disappeared. And the innocent suffered. The so called “Princes in the Tower” disappeared in 1483, aged 9 and 12 years old. Their deaths remain a mystery to historians. Much about this historical period is uncertain.
Girls and women were pawns, married (sometimes as infants) and sometimes divorced for reasons of political expediency. England was trying to establish itself as an international power, not merely a northern fringe country.
The relationship of church to government was complex. A church might offer “sanctuary” under various circumstances, to criminals or potential targets of political kidnapping. Royalty were presumed to rule by the grace of God. God was assumed to determine the outcome of battle.
In the absence of science, superstition ruled in medicine and in agriculture.
Want something entertaining to read on vacation? This is it. Somewhat long winded. Not as good as Philippa Gregory, but enjoyable.
“The Ballerinas” by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
This recently released novel harkened back to an early interest of mine. Right after I stopped binge-reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series (middle school), I started reading about ballet. Much later, I read biographies of wonderful dancers, like Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland.
The Ballerinas brought me up to date on the strange, wonderful and very, very insular world of ballet.
Kapelke-Dale includes sexual politics that wasn’t obvious in the older books. Gender is ALL. Male dancers are few, highly privileged and likely to feel “entitled”. Aspiring ballerinas are numerous and fiercely competitive. The men continue to grow and develop much longer than ballerinas, who “freeze” at about age 16. Retirement is mandatory at age 42. Partnered dancing (the pas des deux) accounts for much of the chasm between men and women.
(I wonder what’s happening with transsexual dancers? Kapelke-Dale didn’t tackle this.)
The Ballerinas follows the lives of three dancers, classmates at the school of the Paris Opera Ballet, and an older woman who raises one of them. “Life balance” is not a concept for dancers, who rise to stardom only if extremely obsessive. One of the dancers becomes a choreographer, which I found fascinating.
Obsession leads to drama. I didn’t foresee the climax of this book, which I won’t share.
If you want something exciting, fast paced and thoroughly contemporary (published 2021), read this book!
“The Vanishing Half” by Britt Bennett
I received this book as a Christmas gift, and I loved it!
It’s about race, about “passing”, about identity and community. The very pretty twin Vignes sisters are identical, and can “pass” for white, but their daughters are opposites, one dark skinned and the other light.
With its detailed portrayal of a small town and its complex, well developed characters (male as well as female), The Vanishing Half reminded me of Marilynne Robinson and her four-book Gilead series, some of the best literary fiction I have ever read.
“This Party’s Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World’s Death Festivals” by Erica Buist
At first, this book, with its dancing skeletons on the cover, didn’t impress me. The author discussed a loss she had suffered, mentioning that Americans don’t grant a bereaved person much respect or attention when the person being mourned falls outside of a few clear categories – immediate family being the most prominent.
Then Ms. Buist, able to work without going into an office, departed on a world tour to check out death festivals and practices in various cultures. I didn’t feel particularly responsive to what she wrote about Mexico and Nepal.
But back in the USA, she stumbled onto transhumanism, of which I had been wholly unaware! I missed it! OMG. (I don’t like missing things.) Transhumanists, according to Ms. Buist, believe that we can and should develop technology that will permit us to live forever as CYBORGS. Just keep replacing your organic parts (including your brain) with well-designed machinery, and you can live forever.
Transhumanists consider it weak to “accept” death. They detest the contemporary American “death positivity” movement, which seeks to overcome the taboo against talking about death and encourages people to plan for their final days. Ms. Buist analyzes these movements in terms of both gender and socioeconomic status (relative privilege), and it gets VERY interesting. Why are most tranhumanists male and many “death positive” spokespeople female? (Did she miss Atul Gawande?) She also analyzes the Mexican Santa Muerte movement, which translates roughly to “Holy Death”, symbolized by a female death figure to whom one can pray for a delay in leaving this life. (Okay, I missed this, too. And it is somehow related to narcotics trafficking.) Both the Mexican government and the Roman Catholic church disapprove of Santa Muerte, going so far as to destroy shrines. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t gotten to New Jersey.
Will Erica Buist tackle the controversial “medical aid in dying” movement? I’m only on page 139 of 296. Six more countries to go! I definitely plan to keep reading.
“Zero Fail – The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service” by Carol Leonnig
Often, I begin by telling you how a book reached me. Zero Fail was positively reviewed and I entered a “reserve” request with my county public library. It was not immediately available, the first book for which I was “waitlisted” in the past year! It took several months for me to get it.
Zero Fail falls into an important target category of mine – books about history I lived through. After a brief prologue, the book begins with the Kennedy assassination. The epilogue ends after the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. 487 pages of text are followed by acknowledgements, notes and index.
I greatly enjoy well written documentary history. I would put Carol Leonnig in the same class as Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) and Bricker and Ibbitson, who wrote Empty Planet. This is high praise.
Leonnig began her journalistic career at The Philadelphia Inquirer and has worked as an investigative report for The Washington Post since 2000. She won three Pulitzer prizes, and began publishing books in 2020.
Leonnig is clear about why the Secret Service rose and fell. The Kennedy assassination (1963) was a low point in Presidential protection. Changes were made that probably saved the life of Ronald Reagan in 1981.
What went wrong thereafter? Why was the Secret Service response to 9/11 so badly compromised? Many “near miss” situations are described in Zero Fail.
Leonnig describes a number of problems that are “baked in” for the Secret Service. It has been chronically underfunded. Presidents want to appear “approachable” and confident. They like friendly agents who are flexible, but these are not necessarily the best people to run an agency. Transitions between presidencies are difficult. Likely assassins (most are mentally ill loners) are hard to spot.
Then there is the issue of “political climate”. Barrack Obama was hated by a certain portion of the American electorate. It’s amazing he (and his family) survived 8 years in office. Some of the near misses that took place during his terms are simply terrifying.
A major issue about the Secret Service is it’s workplace culture. It is macho, insular and self serving. At it’s worst, it’s “frat boy culture” of “infighting, indulgence , and obsolescence” (Leonnig p xvii). It’s also profoundly racist and misogynistic. And, ironically, highly patriotic.
This book describes an important agency that is in trouble. NOW. It’s not clear that improvement is underway. I hope Biden and his team are able to stay safe.
“The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michelle Richardson
I loved this book! For starters, it has a stunning setting, beautifully described – remotest Kentucky, hilly and wild. The story takes place during the Great Depression.
The “book woman” of the title, Cussy Mary Carter, is part of a tiny and persecuted minority, the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Victims of an unknown genetic disorder, they suffered persecution because people feared that their strange condition was contagious. Racially, blue people were classified as “colored”.
Cussy Mary’s family is desperately poor. Her father is a coal miner. After her mother dies, her father, trying to protect her, forces Cussy Mary into marriage to a violent, thuggish man who promptly dies. Cussy Mary takes advantage of a New Deal program called the Pack Horse Library Project to earn a much needed salary and satisfy her love of books and reading. She carries books, magazines and even “scrapbooks” to isolated homes and schools, where children and most adults are avidly hungry for the printed word.
Improbably, The Book Woman has an animal as a major character. Cussy Mary inherits a mule she names Junia, that had been starved and beaten by her deceased husband. Nursed back to good health, Junia trusts only Cussy Mary, tolerates women and children and simply HATES men, kicking and biting them at any opportunity. We meet Junia in the first sentence of the book. Cussy Mary takes advantage of Junia’s acute senses and instincts, and together they survive shocking challenges.
Ultimately, Cussy Mary meets a man who sees beyond her obvious differentness and comes to love her. It’s a very bad time and place for the improbable pair.
Amazon classifies The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek as historical fiction, but it could be grouped with action/adventure, as it moves very quickly.
I read The Book Woman fast because the plot captivated me. When I went back over parts of it, I realized it is stunningly well written, crisp and passionate. Maybe this book will be recognized as literature.
I briefly searched on line for information on methemoglobinemia and the blue skinned people of Kentucky and learned that, contrary to what Cussy Mary thought, the “blues” did not die out, and now, in the age of genetic testing and internet genealogy, these people are finding one another and sharing family histories and memories. Most people who show the characteristic blue skin of methemoglobinemia are otherwise in normal health and live an average lifespan. Treatment is now available. Clusters of the people with the condition have been documented in Alaska and Ireland. The recessive (unexpressed) gene persists.
Eight pages of pictures and historical details about the Pack Horse Library Project complete this book. I recommend it without reservation.
“The Blood Card – A Magic Man Mystery” by Elly Griffiths
I read Elly Griffiths’ other mystery series (about forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway) in it’s entirety, but had dropped the Magic Man series because I didn’t like the first book that much.
I picked up The Blood Card (aka Brighton Mysteries Book 3) by mistake, but totally enjoyed it.
It takes place in 1952, during the days leading up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Griffiths makes much of the emerging role of TV in this event. Post war England was embroiled in controversy. Should a woman ascend to the throne? Who needed monarchy, anyway? Why were the rich SO rich, while the commoners who had fought and won World War II struggled with rationing? Who was a communist? WHAT was an anarchist? And how was the entertainment world going to cope with “home entertainment”, aka television?
Having constructed a pleasingly eccentric cast of characters (including a gypsy fortune teller) and drawn them all to a big, old London theatre, Griffiths lets us know that the threat of an anarchist bombing is serious and immediate. Ultimately, the bomb itself is on stage in front of the audience.
At this point, I had absolutely NO IDEA how the plot would be resolved and the book would end! Who was the bad guy? I was engaged and delighted. Reading The Blood Card was so much fun!
Rather than stay up and rush through it (very tempting), I went to bed and saved the end for the following day. It was highly satisfying.
“Like the Willow Tree – The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce – Portland, Maine, 1918” by Lois Lowry
This book, part of the “Dear America” series, was written for children ages eight through twelve, and was originally published in 2011. It has been republished because it deals with the impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on families. I found in slightly didactic, but didn’t stop reading.
Eleven year old Lydia and her older brother Daniel are suddenly orphaned by influenza, which could kill in less than 48 hours. Their nearest relative (an uncle) is unable to care for them, so they are taken to the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake.
Historical background: The American Shakers were a Utopian religious sect. Committed to celibacy, the communities grew by accepting converts and fostering orphan children. In 1918, their numbers were declining, and there were more female than male Shakers. In addition to farming, they manufactured high quality furniture, wooden boxes, herbal remedies and clothing to support themselves.
Lowry paints a positive picture of Shaker life at that time and place, and the fictional Lydia could certainly have faced far worse circumstances. The big shock for her was the almost total separation of the sexes in Shaker life. Lydia couldn’t visit freely with her brother. She adapted quickly to the Shaker lifestyle of simplicity, hard work, good food, worship and joyful singing. Daniel, however, ran away, leaving Lydia afraid for his safety. He returns during a blizzard, when the community needs help. An epilogue suggests Lydia left the community to marry at age 23, but Daniel was a Shaker all his life.
Only a few Shakers now survive, but “Requirements for Membership” are posted on their website. I found a news article suggesting a new member may join the group. Sabbathday Lake has become a retreat center, and is supported by an active “Friends of the Shakers” organization, consisting of people who value the spiritual and cultural heritage of Shakerism. Their worship (absent Covid) is open to all. I would like to visit them.