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review 2018-01-16 03:43
Light on romance, heavy on mystery
The Red Carnelian - Phyllis A. Whitney

I'm going to use this one for the "W" square in the Women Writer's Bingo Project. Originally published in 1969, this is a fairly early effort in Whitney's transition away from juvenile fiction into adult gothic style romance. It's set in a Chicago Department Store during the glory days of the window display industry. One of my favorite aspects of the book was this deep dive into the narrow historical moment during which window displays in department stores were a place for copywriters and artists to get paying work that got a lot of attention.

 

The main character, Linell, is a copywriter at Cunningham's, a Chicago Department Store. I pictured the old fashioned, multi-story department store, like Macy's, that took up a whole city block. Linell's former fiance, Michael Montgomery, who goes by Monty, is returning from a honeymoon with a different woman, after basically dumping Linell and running away. The book opens to the heroine trying to figure out how best to deal with the fact that the two of them, and his new wife, are all going to be working at Cunningham's.

 

It quickly becomes clear that there is trouble in paradise between Monty and his new bride, and by about page 35, someone has taken a golf club to Monty's head. I certainly can't say that he didn't deserve it, because he was clearly a total d-bag. 

 

This is really a closed circle mystery. It's well plotted, and there is a romantic sub-plot involving Linell and another young male employee at Cunningham's that isn't particularly convincing. There is one pretty solid suspenseful scene that occurs when Linnel is wandering around the mannequin storage area. 

 

At this point, I think that Open Road has reissued most, if not all, of her adult gothics. I found this one fairly enjoyable, but I think I'd like to dip my toe in one of her historicals next - I'm thinking Skye Cameron or Thunder Heights.

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text 2018-01-15 23:35
Women Writers Bingo / Project: Tracking Post

 

Read:

A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new)

B -

C - Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger (revisited on audio)

D -

E -

F -

G -

H -

I -

J -

K -

L -

M - Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie (revisited on audio)

N -

O -

P -

Q -

R -

S -

T -

U -

V -

W - Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Spinning Wheel) and The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch) (new)

X -

Y -

Z -

 

Free / center square:

 

On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.

 

Read, to date in 2018:

Female authors: 16

- new: 14

- rereads: 2

 

Male authors: 2

- new: 2

- rereads:

 

F & M mixed teams / anthologies:

- new:

- rereads:

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review 2018-01-15 21:36
The Women in the Castle
The Women in the Castle - Jessica Shattuck

Three women are bound together by fate and their husbands choices made during World War II.  The husbands of Marianne von Lingenfels, Benita Fledermann and Ania Grabarek were all involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in July of 1944.  Appointed "the Commander of Wives and Children" by her husband, Marrianne takes her duties seriously and decides to round up those she can find in the aftermath of the War in the relative safety of her family castle, Burg Lingenfels.  While Marianne succeeds at the impossible task of finding the dispersed  women and children, her harsh steadfastness combined with Benita's gentle inward intuitiveness, Ania's survival drive and the children's collective shock makes for a difficult group to have under one roof.   The secrets that each woman must keep combined with their sense of camaraderie creates  a very different post war experience for Marianne, Benita and Ania.


The Women in the Castle is an epic story that creates a great range of feelings and complicated and scenarios.   It also shines a light on the role of women and children before and after the war, but more importantly, the resistors.  In thinking of the heroes of World War II, I don't often think of the Germans who were strong enough to resist Hitler's pull, even in little ways.  All of the women's characters were strongly developed and I enjoyed that they showed their strength in different ways.  At first, I was pulled toward Marianne's conviction and dedication to her task, but as each woman's story unfolded and the layers peeled away, I felt more and more connected to their stories and understood their reasoning.  The writing does jump back and forth through time and each woman's perspective.  Keeping track of the time jumps and point of view can become a bit confusing; however, you do learn things at appropriate times instead of being bombarded with too much information at once.  There are many, many more things I could say about this book, but most importantly, it provides a different perspective of World War II, and comments on the importance of friendship, compassion and resistance.

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review 2018-01-15 19:36
A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo
A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa - Alexis Okeowo

This is a short nonfiction work by a Nigerian-American journalist that goes behind the headlines in four conflict areas in Africa, telling the stories of people who range from victims to local leaders. It is a very engaging book, a quick read that introduces readers to several countries and humanizes big events, although at only 236 pages for so many stories, it is very brief and therefore unable to treat its subjects with the depth I would have liked.

Eunice is a teenage girl living in rural northern Uganda when she is kidnapped by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army while visiting her sister at boarding school. Once in the bush, she is forced to marry Bosco, a young man also kidnapped as a teenager, and both are forced to participate in acts of violence. By the time both eventually escape, they have children together, and Eunice, like many young women whose futures are circumscribed by LRA kidnapping, decides to return to Bosco. Former rebels are given amnesty to encourage defection, but the couple faces ostracism from their community and seems to be passing on their trauma to their children.

Biram is a Mauritanian activist, growing up in a socially conscious family in the last country in the world to outlaw slavery (it became illegal in 1981, but not a criminal offense until 2007), and one where the police remain uninterested in bringing wealthy slaveowners to justice. He starts an organization dedicated to eradicating slavery, rescues slaves directly and draws attention to the cause by risky acts like publicly burning the books used to justify slavery under Muslim law (though he is Muslim himself). Later he expands his focus to other racial justice issues and runs for president of Mauritania.

Abba, aka Elder, is an auditor and patriarch of a large family in northern Nigeria when Boko Haram gains traction in the area. Frustrated by the lack of government response to the attacks, he joins a local vigilante group that captures militants and hands them over to security forces, proving far more effective than the actual military. He becomes a leader in the group and moves into politics as well. Meanwhile, Rebecca is a teenage boarding school student in nearby Chibok when she is kidnapped by Boko Haram along with 300 classmates. Fortunately, she is one of the 50-odd with the courage and presence of mind to quickly escape, and gradually overcomes her trauma while returning to school in a distant city.

Finally, Aisha is a teenage girl in Mogadishu, Somalia, who refuses to let al-Shabaab terrorists intimidate her out of playing basketball. They certainly try – she receives regular death threats by phone, is nearly kidnapped and has a gun pointed at her on a bus – and another female player is brutally murdered. But Aisha is determined to live her own life, and she and her teammates find joy in the game and treasure rare opportunities to participate in tournaments, despite the lack of government support.

These are all fascinating stories, though the subtitle doesn’t quite fit anyone other than perhaps Aisha: Biram and Elder are leaders, not ordinary people, while Rebecca is a survivor but not exactly fighting extremism, and Eunice and Bosco remain victims. Each story is told in two chapters, one in the first half of the book and the other in the second, and the second half provides much of the emotional consequences and complexity that seemed to be missing from the first half. Of course the circumstances of these people’s lives, and the strength required to keep going, is extraordinary to the Western reader. This book tells very compelling stories in a quick and accessible way; for me it is too quick (each of these stories deserves its own book), but it provides a great introduction while telling human stories behind events in the headlines.

My other reservation is the fact that the book cites no sources, and the author tells us nothing about her research other than what happens to come out in the text as she relates her experiences in meeting these folks. She generally applies critical thought to the stories people tell her – for instance, she includes the accusations of brutality against Elder’s group – but sometimes seems to accept simplistic stories, as in the 9-page life story of a Mauritanian slave that seems to be a chronicle of constant abuse. Though the author seems to do her research, it’s never clear how well the stories are corroborated.

Despite that, I think this is a great premise for a book and these stories are engaging, emotional, and well-told, with enough background information included for readers unfamiliar with these countries to understand their contexts. I recommend it.

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review 2018-01-15 05:21
Low Point
Steed and Mrs. Peel: The Golden Game - Ian Gibson,Anne Caulfield,Grant Morrison

Wasn't a fan of the art in this volume. It made some of the panels hard to follow, and the bad guys seemed comically cartoonish. 

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