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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Silent Shadow: An Indie Thriller That I Wanted To Love

I was very interested in reading about Pat S. Clarke’s mute Brazilian protagonist and her quest for vengeance in The Silent Shadow.  I have enduring interests in differently abled protagonists and in fiction that takes place in Brazil though I haven't reviewed books dealing with these themes recently.  See my review of a book that takes place at a deaf school at Innocents of Oppression Review.  You can also read my review of a romantic eco-thriller taking place in Brazil at Amazon Burning Review. I expected to love The Silent Shadow.  That's why I purchased it from Amazon, and reviewed it for Bookplex.


I liked the sense of place in The Silent Shadow.  One example is the inclusion of sandstorms in the Amazon.  This brings home to readers that vast expanses of jungle once rich in plant and animal species have been radically transformed by deforestation.  When I ran a search about these sandstorms in Brazil, I encountered  No Rain in the Amazon on Google Books. I will definitely want to check out this volume further.  I also knew little of the Amazon Gold Rush.  This book inspired me to research its continuing impact on Brazil and its people.

I thought that mute Adelia’s  communication issues were well-handled for the most part, but I was skeptical about conveying an abstract phrase like “looking for a job” in gestures that would be widely understandable among those who use spoken language.  I ran a search on Brazilian sign language and found the  Wikipedia article.  It's known as Libras in Portuguese which stands for ngua Brasileira de Sinais.  Libras is related to American Sign Language (ASL) because both are based on French Sign Language.

The plot was appropriately fast paced, but I wondered at first why a woman who wanted to conceal and disguise herself was acting in a manner which drew attention.   This seemed foolish.  Yet in the long run she brought herself to the attention of allies as well as enemies.  Adelia was very fortunate, but there were times when I questioned her judgment.   I also disliked the villain’s stereotypical portrayal and a few predictable plot tropes.

There were noticeable problems with both formatting and copy editing.   The intermittent improper division of paragraphs was disconcerting.  At one point, the identification of who was speaking was separated from the dialogue which confused the speakers.   I found fifteen spelling and grammar errors.  There was one run on sentence late in the book that also contained two spelling errors.  I realize that this is Clarke’s first novel.  Yet when a book is offered for sale, readers have a right to expect professional editing. 

I really hoped to enjoy this book more than I did.   The author had a great idea and a fabulous protagonist, but the book had some flaws that limited my initial enthusiasm.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shooting Creek and Other Stories: Mainly Rural Noir

I'm not usually a fan of noir, but I occasionally interrupt my reading habits with an uncharacteristic book.  I was also interested in the rural settings of a number of these stories.  You don't see rural noir anywhere near as often as urban noir, but I have read it.   The most notable examples were by the extraordinary Appalachian writer, Daniel Woodrell.   The best of Shooting Creek and Other Stories by Scott Loring Sanders did remind me of Woodrell.  That's why I was glad to obtain a review copy from publicist Wiley Saichek in return for this honest review.


As is typical with anthologies, I didn't love every story I read in this collection.  I think that Scott Loring Sanders has a gift for very real characters and the re-creation of settings, but there were stories that felt a bit too unresolved, and others that seemed rather predictable to me.

My personal favorite that really caused me to sit up and take notice was "Jim Limey's Confession".   This story takes place in the rural South during the 1920's.   Jim Limey is an African American man who was faced with the necessity of taking over his father's business in his early teens.   These were terrible times for African Americans as I've learned from other historical fiction.  So it shouldn't surprise any readers that the story deals with the impact of racism.  Racist attitudes place Jim Limey in a position where he had to choose between justice and survival.   This is a memorable story with a great deal of dramatic intensity.

I was also moved by the family tragedy depicted in the title story, "Shooting Creek".   I felt sad for how destiny altered the life paths of these characters beyond recognition.  Yet it starts off with a tranquil scene of  a ten year old boy snapping beans on the porch with his mother.  It's the contrast between that scene and the events that follow it that transfixes readers and engages their emotions.

All but one of these stories appeared in other publications, but Down and Out Books has collected them all in one volume, so that we can locate them more easily.   I confess that I wouldn't have read them at all if it hadn't been for this anthology.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire--A Biography of My Favorite Suffragette

I first discovered Sylvia Pankhurst when I read Suffragette Autumn, Women's Spring  by Ian Porter which I joint reviewed with my co-blogger Tara on Flying High Reviews here.   It's not that I didn't know she existed.  I knew that she was part of the celebrated Pankhurst family who were so influential in the women's suffrage movement in England, but I didn't  know any more than that.   Katherine Connelly, the author of  Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire, says that Sylvia was written out of suffrage history.   I saw that she was barely mentioned in the movie Suffragette which I reviewed here.  It was so ironic that a movie about working women in the suffrage movement portrayed them as followers of Emmeline Pankhurst who despised them and didn't include them in her organization.

Connelly thinks that Sylvia was written out of suffrage history because she wasn't a member of organizations.    I think this is inaccurate.  Connelly mentions  a suffrage organization that Sylvia founded called ELFS (East London Federation of the Suffragettes) which was for working women.  I contend that  Sylvia was written out of  suffragette history because she made the classist suffragettes of her day uncomfortable. She was too far ahead of her time.  Connelly's biography shows us why Sylvia Pankhurst was so extraordinary.


It appears evident from this biography that the most influential figure in Sylvia's life was her father, Richard Pankhurst. He taught her to stand by her principles without regard for the opinions of others.  Richard Pankhurst was a lawyer and a radical political activist.  He left the Liberal Party and  unsuccessfully ran for Parliament as an independent. He was the author of the first women's suffrage bill in England in 1869.   He also wrote the Married Women's Property Act which became law in 1882.  Before that, a married woman couldn't own anything.   Any assets she brought into the marriage became her husband's.  This was related to the suffrage issue.   Since only men who owned property could vote in Britain at that point,  the idea of women becoming the equals of men when it came to the vote meant that only women who owned property would have that right.  Before the Married Women's Property Act, the vote on equal terms with men would only apply to single women who owned property. Richard Pankhurst believed that married women should also be able to vote.  He died in 1898 when Sylvia was sixteen.

I found out that Sylvia was an artist when I first researched her online after reading Ian Porter's novel.   There's a section on dealing with her art at Sylvia's Art.   As someone who is interested in woman artists, I took note of Connelly's account of the discrimination she dealt with in studying art.  She had the same issue that art patron Adele Bloch-Bauer experienced that I discussed in my review of  Stolen Beauty which I reviewed here.

When her snobbish sister Christabel was abroad, Sylvia was asked to take over the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) which was founded by their mother, Emmeline.   So she recruited working class and labor activists.  She held massive rallies with Labour Party speakers even though her mother and sister were strongly identified with the Conservative Party.  She also involved suffragettes in strikes and sent them to speak at union locals.  When Christabel learned what Sylvia was doing, she summoned Sylvia to Paris.   The result was a complete break between the Pankhurst sisters, but I'm sure that Sylvia was on the right side of history.   She built alliances and refused to exclude anyone on the basis of class.

Sylvia  wasn't perfect.  She went through a period when she was enamored with Russian Communism because she was impressed with Lenin, but she was disillusioned by the NEP (New Economic Program) which brought back private enterprise, and totally alienated by Stalin who she called counter-revolutionary.  I think that many left of center idealists in the West went through a similar process of disillusionment and separation from Communism during this period.   Sylvia was anti-fascist and she recognized that there was no difference between Stalin and other fascist dictators.

Fascist Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia was what first got her interested in that African nation.   No one else in England was writing about Ethiopia at the time. The post-war occupation of Ethiopia by Britain also drew criticism from Sylvia because she was opposed to Africa being colonized.  She was in favor of  Haile Selassie's rule.  Africans in London were tremendously supportive, but Whitehall was not pleased. Connelly commented "More than thirty years after the end of the suffragette movement, Sylvia Pankhurst was still driving the British government to distraction."  Sylvia moved to Ethiopia in 1956 and spent her final years there.   She was buried in Ethiopia.

 Her son, named Richard after the original Richard Pankhurst, became an expert on Ethiopia.   When I ran a search for Richard Pankhurst as part of my research for this review, almost all the results were dealing with Sylvia's son and how respected he was as an academic. He died in February 2017.  His daughter Dr. Helen Pankhurst became an advisor on Ethiopia for  the Care International organization , and  a women's rights activist. See Helen Pankhurst's article on Wikipedia.  Helen Pankhurst has a daughter named Laura who is also a feminist.   So the Pankhurst legacy of activism founded by the first Richard Pankhurst back in the 19th century continues.

I consider this book the best non-fiction that I've read so far in 2017.  Sylvia Pankhurst is such an inspiring figure.  




Friday, April 7, 2017

In Shadowland--The Death of Quentin Roosevelt

I think it was the connection to Teddy Roosevelt that first drew me to this thriller.  In  high school my American history teacher  considered him one of our greatest Presidents.   The more I learn about TR (as my teacher called him), the more he has impressed me.

In Shadowland by Timothy Ashby centers on Seth Armitage, a Bureau of Investigation agent (the original name of the FBI), who investigates the death of Teddy Roosevelt's youngest son, Quentin in WWI.  I had never heard of Quentin Roosevelt, but when I researched his death, it seemed to me that it should have been investigated.  That's why I accepted a free review copy of In Shadowland  from Stephanie Nelson, a book marketer who also is a certified canine massage therapist.  This has nothing to do with the book, but it did sound like a worthy profession especially if you live with a dog who has arthritic joints.


As expected, a number of Roosevelts and J. Edgar Hoover appear in this book.  I hadn't expected Adolf Hitler to be as prominent a character as he turned out to be.   With all the assassination conspiracies that swirled around Hitler even before he became the dictator of Germany, you would think that one of them would have been successful. Timothy Ashby provides a speculative theory about the rise of Hitler along with his hypothetical explanation of what really happened to Quentin Roosevelt.  I thought that the conjectures presented by Ashby seemed very credible and well-researched.

Armitage is portrayed as having principles which he had to violate under the orders of J. Edgar Hoover whose main interest in Armitage's mission appeared to be the acquisition of additional blackmail material that he could hold over the Roosevelts.   Based on what I've read about Hoover in non-fiction sources,  I consider Ashby's depiction of him quite accurate.    

The only woman who was central to the plot of In Shadowland was a spy who hid her true loyalties.    There were points when I admired her, but she could be quite ruthless in the service of her cause.

I considered Armitage a heroic character.  His conflict between doing his duty and his sense of ethics made him even more sympathetic.

In Shadowland connected the dots for me by giving me pieces of the historical puzzle that I was missing.  I recommend it to people who are interested in events and historical personages between the two world wars.