Tag Archives: female protagonist
“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 Girl Who Reads on the Metro” by Christine Feret-Fleury, translated by Ros Schwartz
This little book (172 small pages) could probably be classified as “magical realism”. It contains just a hint of the supernatural, the appealing notion that books respond to people, want to be read, want attention. Aside from that, it’s a simple story about the transformative power of reading. Anyone who ever REALLY gets lost in a book will understand.
Juliette lives a safe and quiet life, but she’s endlessly curious about the people she sees reading books on the Paris metro. She stumbles into a place marked “Books Unlimited”. It’s not quite a store. Sometimes it’s referred to as a “depot”. It’s not clear where the books come from, but they arrive in a steady stream.
Before the dust settles, not only has Juliette quit her unsatisfying job, but so have her two colleagues, each moving towards fulfillment of a happily cherished dream.
This book is being marketed for Book Clubs. I think it will be popular! I could happily spend some time imagining backstories and alternative futures for Feret-Fleury’s loveable characters. And there’s an extensive book list included!
“The Bodies in the Library” and “Murder is a Must” by Marty Wingate, First Edition Library Mysteries #1 and #2
This new mystery series by Marty Wingate is great fun! I’ve already read two of them. I regret that my Library hasn’t got her other mystery series. Time to turn to Kindle.
So what is the fictional First Edition Library? A very wealthy widow in the coastal English city of Bath specializes in collecting first editions from the “Golden Age” of mystery writing, mostly by women. Authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Protagonist Hayley Burke becomes curator of this fabulous collection. She even gets to LIVE in the Library!
Aside with the usual problem with mysteries (real life rarely produces interesting crimes or clever murderers), what do we learn? That British women drink a tremendous amount of tea, and almost as much wine. They talk to cats and to portraits.
Now I want to go back and read piles of classic mysteries.
“Glamour Girls” by Marty Wingate
Marty Wingate is mostly a (cozy) mystery series writer, and my local library is regrettably deficient in her works. Glamour Girls is a standalone World War II historical fiction/romance. Wingate was inspired by the autobiography of Mary Wilkins Ellis (1917-2018), whose exciting life story has fortunately been preserved in several formats. See photo above.
Glamour Girls is part of a recent spate of works pertaining to the role of women in World War II. I read Code Girls in 2017.
We (the baby boomers) have been subjected to so much discussion of the “greatest generation”, our parents who fought World War II. It is disingenuous to think either the US or Great Britain (setting for Glamour Girls) was completely “united” during that war. Wingate includes anecdotes that show the cracks in the armor. For example, an air raid warden is caught looting.
This book is strong on both plot and atmosphere, and the protagonist is both believable and appealing. The plot reflects the shocking uncertainty of life during wartime.
Wingate follows (perhaps unknowingly!) the habit of Patrick O’Brian (of Aubrey-Maturin fame) in taking her “action” sequences (crashes, near misses…) from historical records. She says she filled in her heroine’s personal life (romance, family drama) from her own imagination. It works.
This book is a good read.
“Inseparable” by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Sandra Smith, with Forward by Margaret Atwood
This short novel is a fictionalized autobiography of the famous French feminist and political philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, who died in 1986. Inseparable was not published in English until 2021. (Amazon has caught up with this, but NOT Wikipedia! A rare delay…)
Beauvoir’s highly influential book The Second Sex was published in 1949, the year I was born. I read it around 1972, but made no effort to read her other work, which includes several novels about which I now feel curious.
Beauvoir’s autobiography Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958) covers the same time period as Inseparable. I just reserved it at my local library.
I was totally surprised to encounter this unfamiliar work. The first thing I noticed was its brisk, casual and somehow modern tone. The book, set among the upper class in post-World War 1 France, recounts the friendship of two girls from age 9 to early adulthood. Sylvie narrates, Andree is her adored friend. Their relationship is one of “passionate friendship”, a concept not recognized in contemporary America. They receive a challenging and impressively intellectual education that they take very seriously.
Translations always make me curious. Sometimes I look at a sentence and wonder how it might come across if the translator chose different words or expressions. For example, early in Inseparable, Sylvie describes Andree as having “character”. But the context makes me wonder if “sensitivity” might be what Beauvoir really meant. I looked up Sandra Smith, the translator of Inseparable. This led me to unfamiliar authors and works I look forward to reading.
The book ends with Andree’s death. She and Sylvie had taken differing paths in the face of religious quandaries and social pressures. My initial reaction was that fading in the grip of an undiagnosed fever was a poor plot device in a novel. Then I reflected on the ailments that now afflict American girls and young women, like anorexia and cutting, and it makes sense. Young women lose themselves in the battle with a social environment filled with contradictions and nonsense.
This book’s introduction by Margaret Atwood is a delight! She admits to having been “terrified” of Simone de Beauvoir. Well, I was/am terrified of Atwood. The author of The Handmaid’s Tale must be dangerous, right? Do I really want to read The Edible Woman, Atwood’s first published novel? Anyway, Atwood writes compellingly about Beauvoir and her friend Elisabeth (Zaza) Locoin and trashes existentialist Jean Paul Sartre. Thanks, Ms. Atwood!
“Trust Me on This – Book 1 of 2: Sara and Jack” by Donald E. Westlake
This book is a kick. The characters are over the top – exaggerated in ways that made me cringe and laugh at the same time.
“Sara Joslyn is fresh from journalism school and ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, she has to settle for the galaxy—the Weekly Galaxy, to be precise, the sensational gossip rag where no low is too low, and no story is too outlandish to print.”
Perfect beach or travel reading, with just enough romance. And a primer in dysfunctional workplace dynamics! You’ll probably recognize some of the characters.
“A Bone from a Dry Sea” by Peter Dickenson
Okay, call me absent minded! I overlooked the fact that this is my second Young Adult book by Peter Dickenson. See review dated April 23, 2021. It shares the slightly didactic character that shows up in much YA literature (imho).
I had to force my way through most of this book. There are two plots, both involving young females. An English teenager goes on a paleontology expedition with her father and finds a (potentially important) bone. The other plot tells us how the bone ended up where it was later found.
Issues of racism and sexism arise, but are not handled in depth. The scientists in this book are portrayed as unpleasant, quarrelsome egotists. I feel that this stereotypical representation feeds the anti-science attitudes that are making our lives so difficult now. If scientists are a bunch of jerks, it’s easier to reject their recommendations measures like vaccination. I’m not saying scientists are all “nice”, but gratuitous fictional portrayals of scientific infighting aren’t helpful.
There’s a real and intellectually interesting controversy behind this book, the question of whether human evolution included an aquatic stage. Why Dickenson chose this as the basis for a YA novel baffles me. But, as I’ve said before, I usually don’t like “fictionalized” versions of real and important people and events. That a bias of mine.
The best part of this book was a BIG plot twist near the end. I totally didn’t see it coming, and I found it completely believable. Yes, life does throw the occasional major league curve ball. (Nobody got killed.) The book ends without telling us how the “victim” will choose to put his life back together.
This book should be examined in courses on Science and Society.
If you want a non-fiction look a major scientific squabble, read Noble Savages by Napoleon Chagnon, cultural anthropologist. I remembered Chagnon as I read Dickenson’s imagined description of the lives of early pre-humans. Chagnon made enough behavioral observations to speculate about questions like how many people can live in a “tribe” before it ends up splitting into two tribes, a possibility Dickinson hints at in A Bone from a Dry Sea.
Another non-fiction account of science and scientific controversy is The Double Helix by James Watson, about the structure of DNA. Later editions include his apology for his dismissive, sexist comments about distinguished chemist Rosalind Franklin.
I wish the fun and excitement of science showed more clearly in Dickenson’s books. Field scientists have crazy adventures!
“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.
“The Zig Zag Girl” a Magic Men Mystery by Elly Griffiths
I don’t like the cover of this book, a jaunty yellow with a cheerful, stylized “showgirl” whose costume includes a top hat. Way too upbeat for a novel that begins with the discovery of a woman’s dismembered body.
I love the cast of characters Griffiths has generated. But I kind of wish they could be handed over to Stephen King for storytelling purposes.
This series is a little dark for me (right now), but I’ll probably come back to it in the future.