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review 2019-06-08 20:07
A solid police-procedural with an inspiring female protagonist
A Woman of Valor - Gary Corbin

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I reviewed another one of this author’s books (The Mountain Man’s Badge, the third book in the Mountain Man’s Mysteries series), enjoyed it and was pleased when I was given the chance to review this book, as I always feel slightly uneasy when I start reading a series in the middle, because I am aware that I am missing on the background and the development of the characters throughout the previous books, and my review will not be able to reflect that aspect of the story. Here, we have a stand-alone novel (after reading the book and getting to the end of it, it seems that there is a second novel with the same protagonist, Valorie Dawes, due for publication in the spring of 2020, so you won’t have to say goodbye forever to the characters if you get attached to them) and therefore we get an opportunity to meet the characters and become familiar with the setting from the start.

This novel combines the police procedural (a rookie policewoman following in the footsteps of her uncle, who was more of a father and hero figure for her than her own father, joins the police local police force, learns the difference between the books and the streets, and tries to catch a criminal that brings back memories she’d rather forget) with subjects and themes more common in women’s fiction (the protagonist was sexually abused as a child and despite her best efforts is still affected by the experience; she has to confront plenty of prejudice and sexism in the police force, has a difficult relationship with her father, and can’t help compare herself to her best friend, who seems to have a much easier and happier life than hers). The author manages to make the mix of the two genres work well, providing plenty of details of how the local police force works that felt quite realistic (and the language and descriptions of the characters, narrated in the third-person —mostly from the point of view of the protagonist— seem straight out of a police report), and demonstrates a good insight into the mind-set of a young woman who has survived such trauma and finds herself confronted by sexist, abusive, and old-fashioned attitudes. (There are small fragments of the book told from some of the other characters’ point of view, also in the third-person, but those are brief, and other than giving us an outsider’s perspective on the main character, I didn’t feel they added much to the plot). Her fight to overcome her difficulties, to take other people into her confidence, and to make meaningful connections, is inspirational and will also feel familiar to readers of literary fiction or women’s fiction.

As mentioned in the description, this book feels, unfortunately, very current, not only because of the abuse (even if the story was originally developed well before #metoo shone some light into the scale of the problem), but also because of the prejudiced attitude of the police towards ethnic minorities (racial profiling is evident throughout the plot), and the way social media can spread falsehoods and fake news, ruining somebody’s reputation only to gain a bit of notoriety. There are plenty of action scenes, chases, and violence (although not extreme) but there are also the slow moments when we see the characters patrolling the streets, making connections with the local gang, or interacting with the locals, and that also felt more realistic than the non-stop frantic rhythm of some thrillers, that seem to never pause for characters to have some breathing space. It shows the work of the police in its various forms, not always running after criminals, but there are also the quiet moments (waiting around, doing research, manning the phones), and when there are actions scenes, these are also followed by consequences that some novels brush over (filling up forms, reporting to Internal Affairs and seeing a having a psychological evaluation after a lethal shooting). Although it is mostly set in a chronological order from the moment Val joins the police force, there are chapters where something makes her remember what happened ten years ago, and we get a flashback from her perspective as a 13 y. o. girl. These interludes are clearly marked in the book, and rather than causing confusion, help us understand what Val is going through and why she reacts as she does to her experiences. She is very closed off, she is insecure, finds it difficult to trust people, men in particular, and struggles to maintain her professionalism when confronted with certain types of criminals. There is much discussion in the book about different types of policemen (I’ll leave you to read about those yourself), and she fights hard to be deserving of her uncle’s memory.

The author is skilled at managing a large cast of diverse characters: Val’s friend, Beth; her father, who is on a slippery-slope of self-destruction; Gil, her partner, a sympathetic and likeable character; the other policemen in the team, including her superiors (more enlightened than most of the other men), the other women in the force (and there are wonderful scenes of sisterhood between the women), her brother, sister-in-law and her cute little niece (obsessed with becoming a policewoman like her aunt), the members of an African-American gang (who although tough and engaged in criminal activities, live by their own code of honour), a blogger with inside information who is happy to distort the truth… and of course, the nasty criminal, who has no redeeming features. Even those who play a small part are realistically portrayed and add to the atmosphere and the realism of the novel. This is not one of those books that take place in a city but feel as if only four or five people were living there. We see neighbours, the owners of businesses, and we also have a good sense of the connections between the local police force and the others in the same county and state.

On reading the author notes after the novel, I felt quite touched by the story behind it, and understood why it feels so personal, despite this being a novel with a main female character written by a male author. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks several members of law enforcement for their expertise and advice, which he has incorporated well into the novel, and the book contains a list of questions that should prove particularly useful for book clubs.

In my opinion, this is a novel that includes a solid plot, with a main bad character (who is truly bad) all readers will hate, some lesser unlikeable characters (the blogger, many of the other policemen Val comes across), some intrigue (who is feeding inside distorted information to the blogger?, what really happened to Val’s uncle?), a hint of romance (don’t worry, honestly. This is not a romantic novel), sympathetic characters easy to engage with and root for, even if we might have very little in common with them, particularly Val and Gil, and a more than satisfying ending.

As I said, I read an early ARC copy of the book, so there might be some minor changes in the final version. This is a book that contains some violence, shootings, and sexual abuse of young girls (and although not extremely explicit, I am aware this could be a trigger for some readers).

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review 2019-02-19 01:14
Strong Female Protagonist Book One - Molly Ostertag,Brennan Lee Mulligan
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

Honestly, I sought this book out because the artwork was done byMolly Ostertag and I am currently slightly obsessed with her work.

Overall, I thought the book was good. There were times when it was a bit confusing, but I liked the concept. 

The artwork in the beginning was a bit overwhelming for me. It starts out with a lot of words in the pictures (signs, song lyrics, store names, logos, billboards, headlines). It was just a bit too much for me. I liked the puns and such, but it was exhausting reading all of those words that didn't actually further the story. This mostly gets phased out after the first two chapters, which made the rest of the book more enjoyable for me. Other than that the artwork was great. 

I did really like Alison's character and how much she matures throughout the book. It was interesting seeing her relationships to various people and how those relationships changed as well. I especially liked the Cleaver plot line. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and will probably read the next book at some point. 
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review 2019-02-16 02:30
Zoey & Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows
Dragons and Marshmallows - Asia Citro,Marion Lindsay

Audience: Grades 1-5

Format: Hardcover - Library Copy

 

 

"What is it, Sassafras?" I crouched down and ruffled my cat's fluffy fur.

- first sentence

 

 

This book is a fabulous early chapter book. Zoey and her cat Sassafras both love bugs and science and when Zoey discovers that her mom secretly takes care of magical creatures, she is eager to help. Zoey, a budding scientist, wears her thinking goggles on her head when she needs to concentrate. And when she finds a baby dragon, she uses the scientific method to determine how to help him.

 

So, not only is this book fun, but it also explains the scientific method (including a glossary at the end). It is much more meaningful than I thought it would be. With a strong female lead who happens to be African American, and all the science thrown in, it goes above and beyond what you expect from an early chapter book. The entire series is a must-have for any elementary library collection.

 

Highly recommended.

 

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review 2019-02-12 12:34
Loved the movie Chinatown? Love San Francisco and female protagonists? This is your novel!
Not Here: A Dina Ostica Novel - Genevieve Novoco

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is the first novel published by this author, and although it might not be to everybody’s taste, I found it an intense and gripping book that deals with important topics. And I was fascinated by the portrayal of the protagonist.

I was intrigued by the description of the novel because I do like the promise of a strong protagonist (although it does not always work, I did like Dina), and because the topic promised something a bit different to the usual thriller. No serial killer, no small-town setting, but a narrative closely linked to a time, a place, and a social issue. Any reader who lives, or has lived, in a city, knows how expensive it is to secure accommodation in a safe neighbourhood, and what a cut-throat world property development can be. In this novel, set in San Francisco, that is literally so. The fact that the protagonist was trying to make a name for herself in the world of podcasting, added to the interest for me, as I’ve always interested in radio and, in my mind at least, podcasts are closely linked to the immediacy of radio, especially to the programmes broadcast by local radio stations.

The story is told in the third person from Dina’s point of view. And it is a very interesting choice, because at times it feels like a first-person narrative (there are plenty of descriptions, although brief, of things like the clothes the protagonist is wearing, and the drinks she makes… She likes tea, and I’d dare say her choice of tea at any point is a clear indication of what her mental state is like at the time); it manages to capture perfectly the tone of character’s thoughts, her fears and anxieties, gives readers a good insight into her mind and feelings, while at the same time offering an outside perspective, an observer’s point of view. I might be stretching it here, but I felt that this is the way Dina sees herself. She is a young woman who has undergone a very traumatic experience and went through a period of depression following it. Now, determined to survive and get back on her feet, but also to never be a victim again, she is always on alert, observes things and people around her, never quite trusting what they say, or her own actions and reactions, second-guessing others and her own motives, ready to flee at the slightest hint of risk, but working hard to rebuild her life. She is not going to take it lying down. She joins a gym and self-defense classes (well, an interesting combination of martial arts and fighting that introduces action scenes and another setting that proves very important to the story). She is determined to make her podcast a success and wants to pursue stories that are important for the people around her, rather than those that might bring her commercial and financial success. Although she is cautious, due to her previous experience, she puts others’ needs ahead of hers, and never hesitates to step up to help others and offer her support, even when it might be dangerous. Her reactions to what happens to her in the story (that, in a way, mirrors her abuse, at least in her head) are totally believable and they match the defence mechanisms she has put in place.  I don’t usually do trigger warnings, but I feel survivors of domestic violence and abuse might find it a hard read. On the other hand, she has moments of desperation but she never gives up fighting, and she is a compelling and inspiring human being rather than a one-dimensional cut-out.

I felt the psychological side of the story, and the insights into Dina’s thoughts and reactions were very well done —there is no magical cure here, no saviour that comes along and sorts everything for our protagonist, and she does not fall for the first person coming along either, no matter how attractive he might be— and although some of the story elements stretch somewhat the imagination (and test the suspension of disbelief, but when we think about true stories we have heard or read, we soon realise that they are not as far-fetched as at first they might appear), the author manages to create a compelling and cohesive story from diverse strands: the world of podcasting, the city and property development, homelessness and crime in San Francisco, abuse and domestic violence, cage-fighting, police corruption, local government conspiracies…

This is not a light read, and there are hardly any moments when the tension loosens up. No light relief present either, and readers need to be prepared to experience a gamut of uncomfortable emotions, that succeed each other at a fast —take-no-prisoners– pace, especially towards the end of the novel.  I’ve mentioned already the descriptions that might not suit all readers. The author ignores Stephen King’s warning about adverbs, and although I have never been too worried about it, I admit it might give one pause, especially when they stray away from the most neutral and commonly used. But other than that, the book is written in straightforward style, it flows well, and it shows a good knowledge of the city and the topics without going overboard and “telling” too much.

I’d recommend this book to people looking for a different kind of thriller and a strong female survivor as a protagonist. Not a superhero, but a young woman determined to make it and an inspiration for readers familiar with these feelings and experiences. I kept thinking about Chinatown as I read this novel (perhaps because of the focus on local politics and speculation) and although it is set in a different city and historical time, if you enjoyed the plot of that story, love San Francisco, and are keen on a dark urban setting, you should try it. I can see this author going from strength to strength, and as this is the first in the series, I look forward to seeing what Dina does next.

 

 

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review 2019-02-06 13:45
The Detective Dog - Julia Donaldson, Sara OgilvieĀ 
The Detective Dog - Julia Donaldson,Sara Ogilvie

While it doesn't adhere to the most basic conventions of mystery stories, and the plot raises more questions than it resolves, I really loved Nell the Detective Dog. The art is loose and free and feels very active, and Nell is just perfect. I love a clever dog.

 

But seriously, what is with that guy? And the wheel barrow? What? I don't understand.

 

Library copy

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