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Monday, September 16, 2019

The Second Biggest Nothing: Dr. Siri's History Hides A Lethal Threat

Ever since I discovered The Coroner's Lunch through the F2F mystery group that I attend, I have been a fan of the always entertaining Dr. Siri series by Colin Cotterill.  The only Dr. Siri book that I've reviewed on this blog is The Rat Catcher's Olympics.  You can read it here.  Edelweiss is enabling my Dr. Siri addiction by once again providing me with a copy of the most recent book, The Second Biggest Nothing, which I am happy to review.  


My original impression of the title is that it might be religious though Cotterill has never gone heavy on theology in the past. It would also be out of character for Dr. Siri whose spirituality is based on his experiences rather than theology.  It turned out that this title is a snarky political comment which is very consistent with the tone of the series.

The primary setting of the Dr. Siri mysteries is 20th century Laos, but there are occasional wanderings elsewhere.  The Second Biggest Nothing contains flashbacks to past events in Siri's life in France and Vietnam.  Just as Mme. Daeng's diary about her history in The Woman Who Wouldn't Die increased my appreciation of Siri's wife, the flashbacks in this book increased my already great appreciation for Siri.

Since I enjoy doing research on the books I read, I authenticated the central event of the French flashback taking place in 1932.  It did indeed happen.  Of course there's no mention of the fictional Dr. Siri having been a witness to it.

I thought that the 1956 Saigon and 1972 Hanoi flashbacks gave me additional insight into the Vietnam War from Siri's perspective as a medical officer.

There was a sub-plot involving spirits in The Second Biggest Nothing in which spirits were causing deaths among young Lao men.  Siri mentions that something similar was happening among the Hmong, and named the Hmong spirit who was regarded as responsible for these deaths.  I found an article dealing with this problem called  Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome  which discussed it as a cross-cultural phenomenon though it seemed particularly notable among the Hmong.  Dr. Siri resolved that sub-plot with a sensible solution.

The murderer of the main plotline did turn out to be connected to one of the flashbacks, but his identity was completely unexpected.  There were also characters who played a surprising role in the resolution.  I thought this was one of the better Dr. Siri novels.



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sands of Eppla: Defining Love and Independence Using A Blind Protagonist

I was enticed by the cover of Sands of Eppla, an epic fantasy by Janeal Falor.  It made me want to explore the book further. It depicts a blind woman with a monkey on her shoulder.  I have an interest in the depiction of characters with disabilities in fantasy and science fiction.  Most recently, I mentioned a young woman who is blind that appeared in the Oremere trilogy by Helen Scheuerer when I reviewed Heart of Mist here.  I was intrigued by an epic fantasy novel that centers on a blind protagonist.  This is why I accepted a review copy of Sands of Eppla from Story Origin.


Other reviewers on Goodreads have commented on the Egyptian flavoring in this novel. It isn't actually ancient Egypt.  It's an original creation of a fantasy realm by the author with a few similarities to ancient Egypt.  There is a pyramid mentioned and a sphinx plays a role in the plot. This particular sphinx flies.  The most famous Egyptian sphinx in our world has no wings.  To show readers that there are depictions of winged sphinxes, I tracked down a public domain image of a pair of winged sphinxes which is shown below.


Actually,   I considered Egyptian influence a minor aspect of Sands of Eppla.  I would like to devote more space to the themes of this book.

 Imagine a society where your status is determined by whether you have or haven't experienced love at first sight.   In our world, those few people who have found their partners that way are champions of the phenomenon. The rest of us are skeptical.  I tend to think that love is usually not a lightning strike.  It happens slowly as a relationship develops. Love is a human need.  There are different types of love.  There is love between friends and family members as well as romantic love. In Falor's rather dystopian kingdom, romantic love can only be achieved at first sight, and it's privileged beyond  any other type of love.  The Amant, who have found love at first sight, are the aristocracy.  They are also the only ones who are allowed to marry and have children.  Amant is derived from the Latin word for love which is similar in related languages. The majority who haven't experienced love at first sight are called the Odiosom.  I see this word as being derived from odious.  The Odiosom are treated by the Amant as if they were odious.  They are persecuted, and given the tasks that Amant won't do.

As a feminist, it didn't escape my attention that the only women in this society who lived on their own are Odiosom.   Yet men who lived on their own were also regarded as odious in this fantasy realm.  Independence wasn't admired.  It was seen as socially and politically disqualifying.

Now the truth is that no one is ever completely independent.  Even the most independent woman I know has a support network of friends who she can call on for advice.  Her friends recognize that they are providing input, and that she makes her own decisions.  I saw such a support network operating in the Odiosom community in this novel.

Since Cassandra couldn't see, she would never experience love at first sight and would always be an Odiosom.  As the story opened, she had been suddenly deserted by her caretaker and was living by herself without contact with other Odiosom. She had needed to become self-reliant quickly.  There was no societal expectation that Cassandra would be able to do this. Falor describes the techniques that Cassandra used to survive on her own, and I found them realistic. Her monkey companion was also crucial for Cassandra at that point in her life.  With a foundation of skills that enabled her to live without a human support network, she would be more valuable to the Odiosom community when she eventually found them.

 The concepts I've discussed are wrapped in a suspenseful plot in which Cassandra and other Odiosom are in conflict with the Amant authorities.  I consider this a five star novel which exceeded my expectations.



Friday, August 23, 2019

He Does Not Die A Death of Shame-- A Novel About Anti-Apartheid Activism in South Africa

He Does Not Die A Death of Shame by Jack Hoffmann is historical fiction taking place in South Africa under apartheid. I've reviewed two books dealing with this period in South Africa on this blog.  They were  How The Water Falls by K. P. Kollenborn which depicted a very intense and conflicted relationship between a British journalist and an Afrikaner member of the South African police. I reviewed it here. The second one was The Blue African by L.W. Samuelson which is a science fiction novel about an extraterrestrial judging humanity based on what he experiences in apartheid South Africa. I reviewed it  here.  I have also read some extraordinary mysteries taking place in apartheid South Africa by the Swaziland born author Mala Nunn which I highly recommend.

What sets He Does Not Die A Death of Shame apart is its focus on South African Jewish protagonist Zak Ginsberg and his enduring desire to become an anti-apartheid activist.  I had previously read novels about 19th century Jewish immigrants to South Africa, but those characters weren't concerned with racial injustice.  I wanted to experience a fictional Jewish viewpoint on apartheid South Africa which I would find more sympathetic, and in sync with my values.  So I requested a review copy from the author.  Jack Hoffmann very generously provided me with a print edition of his novel free of charge.


Jack Hoffmann begins with a history of Zak's immigrant family beginning with the persecution in Lithuania from which they escaped, how his parents met and married and eventually showing us how the other protagonist, Zulu Mpande Gumede,  first entered Zak's life as the son of Zak's beloved nanny and as a childhood playmate.

As adults their respective statuses under apartheid caused Zak and Mpande to embark on radically different life paths.  I knew that it was the author's intention for the two former playmates to reconnect.  So I was continually wondering when it would happen, in what context this event would occur and what the consequences would be for both of them in a society that forbids any type of relationship between the races.

Zak could have left South Africa.  In fact,  I'm sure that many readers would  consider leaving much wiser than staying. South African mixed race comedian Trevor Noah made it abundantly clear in his memoir why he needed to leave the nation where he had literally been "born a crime".  Zak may have been born into a relatively privileged environment but his vision of tikun olam (the Jewish idea of restoring what is broken in the world) made South Africa an increasingly dangerous place for him to be.

I ran searches on Jewish anti-apartheid activists in South Africa after reading this novel.  I discovered that very prominent leaders in the anti-apartheid struggle, such as Joe Slovo and his wife Ruth First, were Jewish.  Gillian Slovo, who alerted me to the dilemmas of the Truth and Reconciliation process in post-apartheid South Africa in her novel Red Dust, is their daughter.  The anti-apartheid movement may not have needed "white saviors" in the form of these Jewish activists, but they had an inner need to strive for justice that came from their heritage.  I also believe that cooperation between courageous individuals of all races is the best foundation for a future of equality.

Do not read He Did Not Die A Death of Shame if you want a happy ending.   I learned in the course of the narrative that this title is a quote from Oscar Wilde who might seem like the last person to issue a clarion call for the sort of old fashioned values like integrity and loyalty that are embodied in the lives of Jack Hoffmann's central characters. I think that Wilde was a satirist because he hated hypocrisy.  He was willing to end his career in order to stand up for his truth.   Wilde was not the man who succeeded in bringing about  GLBT acceptance.  Zak and Mpande weren't the men who ended apartheid, but they were heroes of their historical moment.  Without such  historical precursors, the goals of the struggle might never be attained. South Africa still isn't a completely just society, but it's closer to that objective than it was under apartheid.  That's why I am glad to have encountered characters like Zak Ginsberg and Mpande Gumede who stood for their own truths.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Warrior Won: A Pregnant Woman's Spiritual Adventures

 I practice yoga, but hadn't previously read a yoga novel.  For one thing, I rarely read contemporary fiction unless it's a crime novel.  When I first encountered the title Namaslay, I imagined that it was a book about a serial killer of advanced yoga practitioners who refused to reveal their secrets. Based on reviews,  it's actually a yoga manual which takes an unusual approach.  I may want to read it some day.

Warrior Won by Meryl Davids Landau also isn't crime fiction.  With that title, it could be a thriller detailing the adventures of a Green Beret decorated for heroism. Warrior Won is indeed an adventure novel, but the adventures are of a spiritual nature.  I was particularly interested in the fact that this spiritually adventurous protagonist is pregnant. My yoga manual for many years was Inner Beauty, Inner Light: Yoga For Pregnant Women by obstetrician Frédérick LeBoyer which was given to me as a gift. Yet I was sure that I'd never seen a yoga novel whose main character is pregnant.  So I accepted a review copy free of charge from the author, and this is my honest review.


Warrior Won is the sequel to Landau's Downward Dog, Upward Fog which I have not read. Lorna Crawford is the central figure in both novels.  I consider her spiritually adventurous because she's always willing to try different practices from a variety of spiritual traditions.

For example, Lorna utilizes backwards breathing which I learned through Tai Chi. It's often called Taoist breathing.  It involves exhaling before inhaling.  I was taught that this type of breathing strengthens chi which is life energy.

Since yoga is a Hindu philosophy, it was not surprising that Lorna had integrated Kirtan into her life.  This is a Hindu performance art involving chants set to music. The culture of India also entered the narrative when one of her friends  introduced Lorna to the Ayurvedic Diets  suited to three body types called doshas. I hadn't explored the Ayurvedic approach, so I found the page I've linked on Mehmet Oz's website instructive.

Lorna isn't an idealized character.  She occasionally made poor decisions.  In one case, it could have had an adverse impact on her pregnancy. I wanted to scold her at that point in the plot.  Fortunately, she had an excellent support network-- most notably her husband, her midwife and her like-minded friends who met as a group several times during the course of the narrative to do spiritual work for Lorna.  If they were Wiccan, I would have called them a coven.

One of these meetings of Lorna's friends was called a Blessingway.  This is the English term for a type of  Diné ceremony. Diné is what the Navajos call themselves.  Landau cites a book titled The Blessingway by Veronika Sophia Robinson which is described as written for the purpose of facilitating the adaption of the Diné Blessingway for non-Native participants.  I haven't read Robinson's book, but it seems to me that she has done a dis-service to the Diné.  I have no issues with the creation of new ceremonies, but I do find it problematic to appropriate the specific term Blessingway for what looks like a more generic blessing ritual.  I found an authentic description from a Diné source at this Blessingway  page.  I feel that Landau made a mistake when she decided to utilize Robinson's book in her novel, and repeat Robinson's act of cultural appropriation by calling the ritual a Blessingway.  This is a single scene in Warrior Won. I would not tar the entire book with the same brush, but I do think that this subject is an important matter that needs to be mentioned in my review.

I would like to close by saying that I thought the characterization of Lorna was believable, and that there were times when I identified with her.  Lorna and her husband had to deal with a tragic revelation in the course of this novel.   Their process of moving through grief to acceptance was very touching. My heart went out to them.  This aspect of the novel had tremendous impact.  I feel that people could benefit from the experience of reading Warrior Won.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

They Called Us Enemy--George Takei's Graphic Memoir is a Story That Must Be Told

I've read a number of novels dealing with Japanese American internment during WWII. I certainly never expected that there would be a graphic memoir dealing with the WWII experiences of a Japanese American.  Leave it to George Takei to show us how that's done in an era when his story has a new urgency.


 There were so many moments in this memoir that provoked thoughts for me.  I'm going to mention the highlights from my notes in this review.

Takei reveals that when he was a teenager, post-WWII, he was angry that his father hadn't organized a protest against internment instead of acceding to it and bringing his family to a succession of camps.  Takekuma Takei, George Takei's Japanese born father, then proceeded to confirm his son's accusation that Japanese are too passive which is definitely a stereotype.  He said "Maybe you're right."  Takekuma definitely wasn't a passive man.  George Takei portrays his father as an activist throughout most of his life, but he was passive in this argument with his son.

 I would have defended my decision.   Protesters would have been rounded up and possibly separated from their families.  Five year old George Takei would still have been consigned to internment camps, but he could have grown up without his father.  I feel that Takekuma Takei did the best he could for his family under the circumstances.  The other observation that I'd like to make about this scene is that it's extremely honest.  George Takei was showing himself being immature in his thinking, and even showing prejudice against Japanese born people.

I was interested that Takei indicated in this memoir that Earl Warren's advocacy for Japanese American internment was due to political strategy. I ran a search on the topic and discovered that it was worse than that.  There's an article written by Earl Warren's law clerk in the 1970's, G. Edward White, here.  White says that the entire political class just before WWII, including Earl Warren, were deeply prejudiced against Japanese Americans.  It wasn't just political strategy.  They all sincerely believed in racist stereotypes due to segregation.  White people never met any Japanese Americans during this period.  White goes on to say that this is why it's so significant that Earl Warren openly stated in his memoirs that he'd been wrong about Japanese American internment and apologized. This may seem like too little too late, but it's actually a big deal when you consider that his fellow Supreme Court liberals Hugo Black and William O. Douglas never reversed themselves on Japanese American internment and never apologized for it.

Takei mentions that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Fred Korematsu v. the United States had been overturned.  Fred Korematsu was a Japanese American who resisted internment and sued the U.S. government.  The Supreme Court at the time upheld the decision of the lower courts that internment was the prerogative of the U.S. military and the courts couldn't interfere.  It was overturned in 1983 on the grounds of suppression of U.S. Naval Intelligence's Ringle Report which found that Japanese Americans weren't in general a danger to the United States, and that the few that were had already been incarcerated before the internment order was issued.  It was the U.S. Solicitor General Charles Fahy who suppressed the Ringle Report. I hadn't heard of the Ringle Report until I did the research for this blog post today.

Takei argues that if Japanese American internment was unconstitutional, so are the current internments of refugees seeking asylum.  Racism is the motivation for both.

This is an important issue for me because like many American Jews, I have a refugee in my family.  My father was six years old when he fled Poland with his family between the World Wars because of the pogroms against Jews. See the article What Were Pogroms? from My Jewish Learning for the history of pogroms.  I actually hadn't known that the word "pogrom" is Russian until I read this article.

They Called Us Enemy should be widely read by people of all ages.   George Takei's  story brings home for all of us that internment for racist reasons is a truly terrible wrong.



Saturday, August 3, 2019

Carmen: A Gypsy Geography-- A Book on Carmen's Roots and Influence

When I started  Carmen: A Gypsy Geography by Ninotchka Devorah Bennahum in June, I didn't really have time to read it but I made time for it because I was going to see the opera Carmen live the very next day.  I decided that I would read as much of Bennahum's book as I could that weekend.  I believed that knowing something of the history and cultural origins of the opera would cause me to appreciate what I was seeing on stage so much more.  I was absolutely right about that.


First, let me say that I understand that Romani is the preferred name for the people often called "Gypsies". It's what this people prefer to call themselves.  I will refer to them as Romani after this paragraph, but the word "Gypsy" is part of the title of this book, and Bennahum consistently uses that non-preferred term.

On the weekend  that I saw the opera, Carmen, I managed to read Bennahum's chapter about Prosper Mérimée's novella "Carmen" on which the opera was based, and the chapter about the tragic history of the opera's composer, Georges Bizet.  I had a discussion with the friend with whom I saw the opera.  I told him that Bizet died thinking that Carmen was a failure and said "I should have written better music."  My friend is a huge fan of Mozart and other German composers.  For him, Carmen didn't have the musical sophistication that he preferred.  He said that it reminded him of theatrical musicals.  He thought that its resemblance to musicals is the reason why Carmen remains so popular.   Perhaps Bizet wasn't a great composer when you compare him to Mozart or Beethoven, but there is no doubt that Carmen has had some cultural influence.

I resumed reading this book after I had finished with posting reviews in response to requests from authors, publishers and publicists. So I could then read more of Bennahum's perspective on Carmen.

In the chapter about the ancient sources of Carmen, her similarities to Lilith resonated most for me.  I thought Bennahum's effort to connect her to Ariadne was more than a bit strained.

I also find it difficult to believe that the Spanish exclamation of Olé was originally Allah, as Bennahum claims. In a search, I saw this claim debunked in a blog post that was removed, but can still be found on the Wayback Machine at Ole, Allah and All. The post states that the first recorded use of Olé was in 1541 which is a little too late in Spanish history for any relationship to Allah to be viable.

Since I had recently seen a wonderfully effective Black Carmen on stage,  I was very interested in this book's discussion of the commonalities between freed African slaves and Romani in Spain.   Bennahum points out that African freedwomen engaged in the same professions as Romani women, and thinks that they also both lived in mountain caves.  I know from my reading about Romani that they have historically been tremendously concerned with ethnic purity, but I am also aware that there have been Romani who were expelled from their communities because they intermarried with outsiders.  So it seems to me possible that there have been people who are both Romani and African descended. It was nice to imagine that the marvelous Black Carmen that I had just seen, is at least feasible.

 Although there were questionable statements in this book, I also thought there were remarkable insights, and some really great footnotes.  For me, this was a worthwhile read.



Saturday, July 27, 2019

No Right Way: A Thriller Involving Syrian Refugees in Turkey

No Right Way is the second book I've read in Michael Niemann's thriller series dealing with the cases of U.N. fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen.  I reviewed the third book in the series, Illegal Holdings, here.  Like all the books in this series, No Right Way involves fraudulent misuse of U.N. funds.  I really liked the protagonist's sense of justice and Niemann's focus on important themes in Illegal Holdings.  So I accepted a free review copy of No Right Way from the publisher via publicist Wiley Saichek.


This fourth novel in the Valentin Vermeulen series takes place in the Middle East.   Vermeulen has been sent to Turkey to make sure that Syrian refugees were receiving the family allowances provided by the U.N.   I had never previously heard of U.N. funding for refugees. I found a Cash Assistance  page on the United Nations Refugee Agency site which appears to be the same program described in No Right Way. Protagonist Vermeulen  does discover that a substantial part of the funds intended for refugees had actually been stolen.

There is other mistreatment of refugees shown in this novel  through the experiences of  Rina Ahmadi, a refugee from Aleppo who is a prominent character in No Right Way.    Yet there are those who are helpful to Rina.  Rina is portrayed sympathetically though she does make some foolish decisions so that she ends up needing to be rescued.

Admittedly, Vermeulen also displays a lack of judgement at times, but Vermeulen is a resourceful survivor who can usually manage to extricate himself from the most dangerous situations.

I think that readers will consider No Right Way a very current book since so many news stories deal with the horrifying circumstances of refugees.   Michael Niemann gives us a window on every day tragedies that are happening to entire populations in our real world. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Mem: Why This Incredible Science Fiction Debut Turned Out To Be Not Credible

The premise of Mem by Bethany C. Morrow sounded both amazing and original.  As I began to read, I could definitely say that this science fiction debut is incredible in the sense of marvelous.  I initially thought it had the potential to be one of the best science fiction books I'd ever read. The story line had tremendous emotional impact, the protagonist was well developed and it had a fresh approach to some significant themes.

So why did I ultimately consider the concept on which Mem was based unworkable as it was presented?  Many reviews of Mem are full of nothing but praise.  Shouldn't debut authors be encouraged?  Indeed they should.  Bethany C. Morrow should be praised for the strengths of her work, but I will not fail to mention that something as important as the central concept was flawed.   I recently finished reading this 2018 release and this is my honest review.


I take no pleasure in writing a critical review of this book.  I wanted to say that I loved it without reservation. Unfortunately, Bethany C. Morrow never convinced me that Mems could exist as described.

First, let me tell you what Mems are supposed to be.  Then I'll describe two possibilities for them to exist as described believably within the context we are given.  Mems are supposed to be entities that are the repositories of specific memories that have been extracted from human beings called Sources.  Mems are identical to their Sources at the time of extraction  of those memories.  Mems never age.  They were first invented in Montreal in the early 20th century.

Here are two feasible paths for the existence of Mems:

1)Mems are magic.   They are created by sorcery through the law of similars.  This explains why they don't age once they are created.  The advantage of a fantasy origin is that it doesn't require any technology that didn't exist in the early 20th century.

2)Mems are androids. Their mechanical nature explains why they are identical to their Sources at the time of memory extraction and why they never age.  This conceptualization has the advantage of  being directly relevant to some the themes of this novel.   The Star Trek: The Next Generation android Data was declared to be a "toaster" in one episode.

 Morrow strongly implies that Mems are clones.  A being cloned from the DNA of a Source would be born as an infant, and would definitely age.   The protagonist was born at the age of nineteen identical to her 19 year old Source.  She remains nineteen throughout the narrative.  This flies in the face of what is known about cloning.  I am sorry, but my disbelief  suspenders broke while I was reading this book.  Morrow owes me a new set of suspenders.

What I loved most about the book was the themes and the way they were illustrated by the narrative.   I believe that Mem shows that memory is identity.  We need to remember who we are.   So it's very possible for a Source who has had a great many memories extracted to have lost all sense of themselves.  Some memory extractions that were key events in this book weren't the decisions of Sources.  They were done at the behest of fathers or husbands who may have believed they were acting in the best interests of their daughters or wives.  So another significant theme is male control over the lives of women.  It is also of particular importance to mention that in the Author's Note, Morrow indicates that Mems as the property of  Sources were intended to represent slavery in our real world.

I identified with the Mem protagonist, and was moved by the dramatic power of her struggle to be recognized as sentient.  So I was very engaged with this book despite the flaw at the core of the novel.  

Yet I have to conclude that Mem is a failure as science fiction.  It's a very interesting and absorbing failure, but nevertheless a failure.  I have no idea how to rate Mem on Goodreads.  So I probably won't rate it.   


Monday, July 15, 2019

Song For A Lost Kingdom # 2: Jacobites, Romance and Epigenetics

When I reviewed the first Song For A Lost Kingdom novel here, I said that it might be described as Outlander with music because Adeena Stuart, the time traveling protagonist, is a musician whose main concern in both  21st century Canada and 18th century Scotland is her music.  This is what I loved most about Song For A Lost Kingdom.  I was looking forward to reading more about this singer/cellist in the  Song For A Lost Kingdom #2 ARC that I received for free from the author.


 Music is still present in the life of protagonist Adeena Stuart, but it has receded into the background as she has become much more involved in a romantic relationship with James Drummond.

James Drummond fights in the Jacobite cause because his mother, a devout Catholic, is deeply committed to the re-establishment of the Catholic House of Stuart. Previous generations in his family had also supported the Stuarts. So he's a Jacobite due to family connections.  This sets him apart from Outlander's Jamie Fraser.  Jamie strongly believed in the Jacobite cause because he wanted to see an end to English rule of Scotland.  It's important to realize that a novel dealing with time travel to 18th century Scotland that also focuses on a romantic relationship shouldn't be regarded as a reiteration of Diana Gabaldon's bestselling book.

Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie (BPC), was the figure on which dedicated Jacobites pinned all their hopes.   Moretti's portrayal of BPC as ruthless, arrogant and short sighted may cause readers to think that he didn't really merit the support that he had.  I found this lack of romanticization refreshing ,and more in accordance with what is historically known about Charles Edward Stuart.

One example of foolishness shown by BPC in Song For A Lost Kingdom #2 is that just before the Battle of Culloden when he should have been discussing military strategy with his generals, he is totally immersed in the design and production of a Jacobite currency that would have been unlikely to be accepted widely.  I decided to check this out to see if BPC had actually done such a thing.  I discovered an article about An Exhibit at the Bank of England Museum where a design for such a currency was displayed.  In the second paragraph of this article, it states that engraver Robert Strange was asked  by Charles Edward Stuart to create printing plates for his currency.  This account also says that it did indeed happen right before the disastrous defeat of the Jacobite cause at Culloden.  I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen the evidence.

The most interesting and original aspect of this time travel fantasy is the 21st century effort by Adeena's doctors to explain what was happening to her scientifically by consulting with experts in the relatively new discipline of epigenetics. I've linked to a Wikipedia article about it written in simple non-technical English.  Other readers may disagree with me, but my feeling is that Adeena's time travel is paranormal, and not explainable by current science.  Yet the content dealing with epigenetics in this book was absolutely fascinating.

Despite having several different focuses, Steve Moretti didn't lose the thread of the plot.  There were no unnecessary digressions.  Everything was relevant.  All the characters had understandable motivations even if they weren't likable.

The only thing that disappointed me about Song For A Lost Kingdom #2 is the cliffhanger ending.   I have always believed that a well-written piece of fiction like this one doesn't need to emotionally manipulate readers into buying the next book.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

War of Mist: Blog Tour, Review and Excerpt From Last Book in YA Fantasy Trilogy

Welcome to my second Caffeine Book Tour post.  My first was the tour for Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson which can be found here.  It's so far been my most viewed 2019 post on this blog.  Here's hoping that this post for War of Mist by Helen Scheuerer is also successful.

I was generously provided with free copies of the entire Oremere trilogy by Helen Scheuerer so that I could get caught up on the previous books before reviewing War of Mist.  I reviewed Heart of Mist here and Reign of Mist here.

For this blog tour post, I am providing an excerpt as well as a review.  Below is an excerpt from the prologue of War of Mist.


Title: War of Mist
Author: Helen Scheuerer
Publisher: Talem Press
Publication Date: July 15, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

War is here.

Toxic mist drives all life to the brink of destruction and the conquerer queen, Ines, has her talons in the kings of the realm.

Bleak, having discovered her true heritage, must now scour the lands for the one thing that might save them all.

But the search is a treacherous one, one that will push her to the very limits of endurance.

Amidst secrets, lies and the intricacies of battle, Bleak and her companions learn just how far they'll go for the ones they love.  But will it be enough.

As deadly forces grapple for power across continents; families, friends and allies unite to take one final stand.

Explosive revelations, heart wrenching betrayals and breathtaking magic soar in the epic conclusion to Helen Scheuerer's bestselling trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.

Goodreads —


 Now, a pair of great doors greeted her. Valian oak, carved by a talented sculptor, the elaborate scrollwork and open books signposting the castle's original library.  She ran her fingers across the design, tracing the detailed lines of the work. Ashai folk before her had done the same; she could feel a lingering trace of their magic in the grain of the wood.  Their power tickled her fingertips, but there was not enough to collect.  Not enough to sate that roaring hunger for more within her.

Beyond the doors, a different power thrummed.  The power of Casimir's damned amulet.  She opened the doors and entered the library.  It was somewhere in here.  She could feel it.  Its magic, and a kernel of her own within it, taunted her.

With a furious flick of her hand, dozens of books shot from the shelves and scattered across the stone floor.  With another sharp gesture, an entire shelf collapsed into rubble.  The strange magic pulsed just out of reach, as though some sort of barrier stood right before her face.

She let out a strangled cry of rage.  The amulet was here.  And she would find it, long before they could use it against her. 

Copyright 2019 Helen Scheuerer


I found War of Mist faster paced with more emphasis on action than the earlier books in the trilogy. Sometimes it seemed as if the characters were racing toward their separate destinies.  The faster pace is dictated by the story that's being told in this novel.  It's a war for the souls of the peoples in Scheuerer's world.  It would be difficult for the stakes to be any higher.  My choice to read the previous novels in the trilogy allowed me to fully understand the price of defeat.  I definitely wouldn't recommend skipping those books and starting with War of Mist.

Another good reason not to start with War of Mist is that lack of background on these well-drawn characters will mean that you won't appreciate some intensely moving scenes that had tremendous impact on them.  I said in my review of Reign of Mist that I thought that characterization is Scheuerer's greatest talent.  So you won't want to miss two novels worth of character development.

After successfully completing her first trilogy, this author has a choice of future directions.   I hope she chooses to explore new territory in some form--a different sort of character, a theme that she hasn't previously addressed, a new aspect of her world, or even an entirely new context.  Authors can expand their audience when they take a fresh approach.  So I would recommend that she should take full advantage of this opportunity to do that.

                                                    Helen Scheuerer

 Author Information


After writing literary fiction for a number of years, Helen Scheuerer was inspired to return to her childhood love of fantasy thanks to novels like Throne of Glass, The Queen's Poisoner and The Queen of the Tearling.

Helen is also the Founding Editor of Writer's Edit, an online learning platform for emerging writers.  Writer's Edit reached thousands of new authors, and soon became its own small press with Helen overseeing the production and publication of three creative writing anthologies.  It's now one of the largest writing websites in the world.

Helen now lives by the mountains of New Zealand and writes full time.  She has many more books planned for the future.

Author links:

Author website and newsletter--

Here is the link to the blog tour launch post:

                                         Invitation to Twitter Chat

The twitter chat on War of Mist is hosted by Caffeine Book Tours @CaffeineTours on Twitter. It's spoiler free, so participants don't need to have read any of the Oremere books.

The twitter chat #CBTTC has been unavoidably postponed and will now take place on August 3, 2019 at 9 am EST.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Calculating Stars: A Woman's Fight To Be An Astronaut in an Alternate Timeline

I'm seriously interested in woman aviators.  The very first post on this blog was a review of a novel dealing with Russian WWII ace Lydia Litvyak which appeared here.   My most recent post on this blog dealing with a woman pilot was a review of The Lost Pilots which I wrote about a year ago. It can be found here. I'm also fascinated by woman astronauts.

It's these enthusiasms that made me such a fan of Mary Robinette Kowal's  Lady Astronaut series which she began with a succession of several short stories that I read first.  They can be found in Kowal's anthology, Word Puppets.  Though I have just learned that there is a more recent Lady Astronaut story that I haven't yet read called "Articulated Restraint" that takes place between the first two Lady Astronaut novels.  I immediately purchased it from Amazon.

My only problem with reading the first Lady Astronaut novel, The Calculating Stars, was setting aside the time to do it when I have so many review commitments.  A buddy read on a Goodreads group gave me an excuse to shoehorn it in between a background book for a July blog tour novel, and an ARC I won  that I'm supposed to be tweeting about this month.  I'm just glad that I finally got to The Calculating Stars.


The protagonist, Elma York, was a Women's Airforce  Service Pilot (WASP) in WWII.  I'm a WASP afficionado too.  On this blog,  I wrote a review of  Marge Piercy's  Gone To Soldiers which contained a character who was a WASP.  You can read that review here

 Elma also had a strong background in mathematics and physics which qualified her to be a computer.   Before the existence of machines called computers, humans known as computers did calculations.  Many readers will have learned about them from the movie called Hidden Figures about African-American women who were computers for the American space program.

In the Lady Astronaut series the American space program was launched under different circumstances.  It takes place in an alternate timeline in which a meteor fell on Washington D.C. in 1952, killed a great many people and altered Earth's climate.  It was decided that finding a new home for humanity should be an urgent priority.   Although I was pleased to see that the space program was regarded as vitally important, I wondered why there wasn't any serious consideration being given to the possibility of interventions that would prevent severe climate change.      

I also have a small quibble over Elma's Jewish background.  Her ancestors were apparently Yiddish speaking Ashkenazis like mine.  Yet she says that they settled in Charleston, South Carolina in the 18th century.  The Jews that arrived in Charleston during that period were Sephardic.  Sephardic Jews were originally from Spain.  They spoke a Spanish derived language called Ladino rather than Yiddish.   According to  the Jewish Virtual Library's page about Charleston's Jewish history here, there was no Ashkenazi synagogue in Charleston until 1854. 

Yet I was so inspired by Elma's struggle to open the space  program to women who were pilots.  So I'd definitely give this novel five stars.