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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Madilla: The Spirit of U'Katang--Fighting For A Woman's Right to Play A Musical Instrument

I obtained Madilla: The Spirit of U'Katang by Ian B. Boyd from Net Galley because the book deals with a girl who plays the piano.  I have an interest in female protagonists who are involved in any of the arts.  The summary implies very adverse circumstances for this young musician.  I don't believe this book was written with a teen audience in mind.  There are mature themes and mature content.

                           

The author states that Madilla takes place in an imaginary country.  There are linguistic and cultural similarities to real places.  At first,  I wondered why  Boyd didn't situate it in a known location. The village described is under military occupation.  It could have been in a number of different nations, but it occurred to me that Boyd wants us to realize that this type of story could apply to all of them.  He shows the impact of occupation on everyone in that village.
 
 Madilla's problem with a ban on women participating in music wasn't imposed by the occupiers. This is a traditional taboo in her own culture which she defies.  I could identify with her since I came up against some serious opposition to women singing as a child in the Jewish Orthodox community.   I discuss the spectrum of  Jewish opinions on women singing in "Are The Haredi Jewish Taliban?" here.

Although I knew of religious traditions where music isn't allowed at all, I wasn't aware of specific cultural proscriptions against women playing or even touching musical instruments. So I ran a search on the topic.  As a result, I discovered a very illuminating blog article by Josh Middleton dealing with this prohibition as a cross-cultural issue here.  There are still prejudices against women playing certain musical instruments. Middleton points out that in contemporary pop music, there are few highly regarded female guitarists.

I consider this a feminist book.  Both men and women have hard lives in Madilla, but there is a strong focus on the problems of women, and it seems to me that the most sympathetic characters are female.

The first ten percent of Madilla establishes the character and context.   I wasn't bothered by this, and considered the entire novel well-written.  Some readers may experience the book as slow-paced.

Madilla has been shelved as fantasy on Goodreads.  It isn't epic fantasy.  It takes place in our contemporary world, so readers may feel genre confusion.  Others may identify the book with magic realism.  The category to which Madilla belongs isn't obvious at the outset.  This may be problematic for those who really want to know what sort of book they're reading.  It isn't clear at the beginning whether Madilla is paranormally gifted or highly imaginative.  Let's just say that by the end of the novel you will definitely know the answer to that question.

  Madilla is not a book for people who are uncomfortable with uncertainty.  Yet if you're willing to deal with fantasy/magical realism and you love protagonists who are musicians, you may enjoy this book as much as I did.

                           






Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lone Wolf in Jerusalem: A Historical Thriller About Resisting The British Occupation of Palestine

When I saw Lone Wolf in Jerusalem by Ehud Diskin on Net Galley, it intrigued me.  I had read books taking place in British Mandate Palestine, but I hadn't seen this sort of focus before.  Since it was a Read Now book, I was able to download it right away.  So when publicist Wiley Saichek asked me if I wanted to review it, I said that I already had a copy for review.

                         

Although Lone Wolf in Jerusalem is primarily a thriller, I find myself wanting to discuss characters. I loved  Shoshana.  Her character arc of recovery from her experiences during WWII really pulled me in to the book.  Yet I have to say that at the beginning of the novel, I found the perspective of the protagonist understandable, but not sympathetic.   David Gabinsky, the main character, was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter and a Holocaust survivor when he arrived in British Mandate Palestine.   He decided to take action against British police officers on his own.  With his background, I understood why David did not distinguish between the Nazis and the British occupiers.  He saw himself as continuing his World II struggle against the enemies of Jews.

Before writing this review, I thought about how I wanted to approach the issue of terrorism.  I re-read my review of  The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi which partly took place in British Mandate Palestine.  You can find it here.  In that review, I remarked about terrorism that "I tend to draw the line at the victimizing of innocent civilians." This expresses my opinion on the subject in a nutshell which is why I am quoting it in this review.  I learned from Lone Wolf in Jerusalem that a Jewish terrorist organization of this period known as the Lehi attacked British civilians in direct opposition to the policy of the Irgun, a much better known anti-British Jewish terrorist organization.  My feeling is that the Irgun policy makes an important ethical statement. At one point in this book, David realized that he had victimized innocents in one of his actions, and came to regret it. Diskin shows us a protagonist who evolves in his thinking, and becomes more sympathetic over the course of the novel.

While I knew something about the Irgun before I read this book, I was extremely uninformed about the Lehi.  I had known that it was called the Stern Gang by its opponents.  So after writing the above paragraph,  I did some research.  British historian Colin Schindler's website pointed me in the direction of The Stern Gang by Joseph Heller.  I'll definitely want to read it. The Lehi didn't play a significant role in Lone Wolf in Jerusalem, but Diskin's content about the Lehi in this novel caused me to think that I wanted to know more.

 Diskin's military background lends tremendous verisimilitude to the action scenes in this thriller.  There is a great deal more talk about strategy and tactics than I am accustomed to seeing in thrillers, but they weren't just dry discussions.  Diskin contextualized strategy and tactics within the life of the protagonist.  David's choices were accompanied by flashbacks when they were related to specific memories from his experiences. 

I am usually disappointed by bestsellers when I read them, but this Israeli bestseller was both intense and informative.

                      




















                    

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Deadliest Fever (Miriam Bat Isaac #4)--Reversing My First Impression

I accepted an invitation to review The Deadliest Fever, the fourth in the Miriam Bat Isaac historical mystery series recently.  The invitation was made by Destiny Brown, a tireless promoter of indie books on Goodreads.  I read all of Destiny's promotional posts.  I figure it was inevitable that one day my interests and hers would intersect.  So I clicked on her link to Net Galley's page for The Deadliest Fever and downloaded a review copy from the indie publisher.

                             

                              
I purchased the first book in the Miriam Bat Isaac series, The Deadliest Lie some time ago because I'm interested in books taking place in ancient Alexandria, and historical fiction with Jewish protagonists. So I decided to read The Deadliest Lie first as background for The Deadliest Fever.  I can't recommend that other readers do the same unless your main interest in historical mysteries is the historical aspect.  There are mountainous info dumps in June Trop's first novel, and the mystery element isn't introduced into the plot until 31%  in the Kindle edition.  I am not the only one to complain about this issue on Goodreads.   Only the most patient mystery reader should attempt to apply themselves to such a narrative.

I would also like to warn those who thought you might eventually want to tackle the gladiatorial book three in the series, The Deadliest Sport.  You probably shouldn't read The Deadliest Fever beforehand.   It contains major spoilers dealing with the The Deadliest Sport's resolution.  Unless you are as tolerant of spoilers as I am, I would advise you to read book three first.

Regardless of when you decide to start The Deadliest Fever, you can expect mystery action beginning at the novel's opening.  So the plot's pacing is vastly improved over book one.

 I also complained in my Goodreads review of  The Deadliest Lie that although it was realistic for Miriam Bat Isaac to behave like an immature teenager when she was seventeen, she wasn't the sort of protagonist that I prefer.  I do read YA, but the YA novels I like best contain unusual central characters who don't behave like typical teenagers. So I was delighted to find that Miriam Bat Isaac is a thirty year old woman in The Deadliest Fever, and is therefore much more in line with my preferences.

Since I enjoy doing research about topics that interest me which are raised in the books that I read,  I often bring up searches I conducted in my reviews.   In this case, I want to discuss my research process.

In The Deadliest Fever, Miriam wants to discover who damaged the mantle which covered her synagogue's Torah.  Mantles are made of cloth covered with embroidery.  Sometimes they are encrusted with gems.

 Since I have seen that not all Torahs are covered with mantles in a contemporary Jewish context, I did a search on the subject.  I discovered that covering Torahs with mantles is an Ashkenazi practice.  Ashkenazis are the descendants of Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe. I myself am of Ashkenazi descent, but there were no Ashkenazis in ancient times.  The only Jews in ancient Alexandria would have been Mizrachis, Jews whose ancestors came from the Middle East.   The current Mizrachi practice is to cover Torahs with silver cylinders which would keep them upright at all times.

 There is a theological conflict of the Sephardis /Mizrachis vs. the Ashkenazis over whether Torahs should be upright or diagonal.  Sephardis are the community descended from the Jewish refugees expelled from Spain.  Many of them settled in the Middle East and adopted the Mizrachi outlook.  If you want to learn more about the reasons behind this disagreement, see this Q & A on the Chabad website.  Chabad is the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world.  Their orientation is Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but they engage in outreach to Jews of all backgrounds.  After reading that Q & A , I came to the mistaken conclusion that June Trop had been inauthentic.  I believed that the Torah in The Deadliest Fever should have been covered with a wooden or silver cylinder.

Then I gave some additional thought to the matter.  The Rabbis cited in the Chabad Q & A had been medieval authorities. They weren't Talmudic Rabbis from the Roman period.  That entire geographical disagreement hadn't existed in ancient times.  I still needed to find out about ancient Torah covering practices.   I found my answer in an article from the Jewish Virtual Library which revealed that "important" Torahs in the ancient Middle East were covered in cloth.   The Torah in the Great Synagogue of Alexandria would have been regarded as important.  So June Trop had been accurate in her portrayal of that Torah after all.

I included my entire process because I wanted to remind people that asking the right question is the foundation of good research.  This is especially important in evaluating an author's accuracy. 

 The Deadliest Fever has the same great historical background that I found in the first book, but it's used more judiciously.  Plot is prioritized and the maturation of Miriam Bat Isaac has made her a much more viable protagonist.   I expect to go back and read the second book in the series, The Deadliest Hate, eventually.  June Trop has successfully reversed the negative first impression I had after reading her first novel.

                              










Saturday, July 21, 2018

City of Ink (Li Du #3) by Elsa Hart

The publisher approved me for City of Ink on Net Galley because I had reviewed the first novel of the Li Du mystery series, Jade Dragon Mountain, here.  I praised the first book for its unusual  18th century China  setting.  When I received this third novel,  I realized that I should have gotten seven lashes with a wet Chinese noodle for neglecting to read the second book in the series, The White Mirror.  Last month I corrected that shortcoming and reviewed Li Du #2 here. I thought The White Mirror was fascinating because of it's 18th century Tibet setting.  It was the best novel that I read in the first half of 2018.  My honest review of City of Ink is below.

                       


  In City of Ink Li Du returns to Beijing from exile.   He had been exiled for his association with Shu who had been executed for conspiring against the Emperor.  Shu had been Li Du's mentor and friend.  He couldn't believe that Shu could have been guilty of such a terrible crime.  So Li Du's main goal in returning to Beijing is to clear Shu's name.

 I believe that Li Du's effort to vindicate his dead friend could have made a compelling short story.  It was certainly the strongest aspect of City of Ink, and provided a powerful ending to the novel.

Unfortunately, a great deal of narrative space was taken up with an investigation that didn't interest me nearly as much as the drama of Li Du's personal crusade to clear Shu.  There were murders at a tile factory.  Li Du diligently followed the clues and came to a slightly unexpected conclusion.  Yet this was the sort of case that could have taken place anywhere.  It was a classic mystery with the requisite plot twist, but after the extraordinary goings on in Tibet during The White Mirror I expected more.

The Imperial exams for government positions were an event in the foreground of City of Ink.   It didn't surprise me that corruption had crept into the exam process.   It would have astonished me far more if all the examiners and applicants were completely honest.  Bureaucratic corruption adds realism, but I considered it a routine element in this novel.

Li Du's friend, the storyteller Hamza was entertaining as usual.  I continue to regard him as the most interesting character in this series.  I hope that Elsa Hart includes Hamza in Li Du's future adventures.

I admit to having been disappointed by the mystery aspect of City of Ink, but I am optimistic about the possibilities that could develop for Li Du and Hamza in upcoming novels.

                               





                       

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Smoke and Iron (Great Library #4)-- Saving The Great Library From Itself

I reviewed the previous novel in Rachel Caine's dystopian alternate history fantasy series back in April here and promised that I would get to Smoke and Iron relatively soon.  The time got away from me. With the best of intentions, I become over-committed.  Then I heard from the publisher wondering when I would review it.  So I shoe-horned this Net Galley into my schedule as best as I could.  Many thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for the ARC.
 
                             

The central characters of this series are rebels, but they are rebels that are part of the Great Library.  They are scholars, obscurists with magical abilities and High Garda military officers who want the Great Library to be restored to its original values without the authoritarianism and corruption that had crept in.  They're something like the contemporary Americans who call themselves the Resistance except that the protagonists of this series are only a small group.  They needed to gain more support or they couldn't possibly succeed.  Smoke and Iron is the story of how they start to build a network.   This isn't a simple process.  It's difficult and dangerous.  It also couldn't be completed in one book.

There is a belief that heroes are people who accomplish great feats on their own.   This is a myth.  Heroes have mentors and allies.  Even an impressively strong character like the hijabi heroine Khalila couldn't do it all on her own.   Even the powerful obscurist Morgan needed help from within her own order.   Jess had connections from the criminal world where he originated.  They all had people that they could call on.  Some of those who responded were surprising.   The inventor Thomas provided some astonishing innovations.

By the end of Smoke and Iron what had seemed like a quixotic mission began to look possible.   This novel is the turning point.   So it's definitely essential to readers of the Great Library series.   Yet a  positive resolution isn't guaranteed.  Hold on to your metaphorical headgear.  The fifth book in the series is likely to be  hair-raising because the Archivist and his cronies won't give up their power without a tremendous struggle.

                           
 
                          

Sunday, July 1, 2018

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia--A Rebuttal To Hillbilly Elegy

When I came across commentary about Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, I thought about what I knew of the history of the region and it didn't sit right.  So I never did read it.   I figured that I wouldn't get any fresh insight from Vance.  I read Kephart's Our Southern Highlanders many years ago.  So I'm familiar with that perspective. I was glad to come across What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by historian Elizabeth Catte who is also native to the region.  I thought I could learn something from Catte's book.

                         

 I already knew that Appalachians were portrayed as backwards as an excuse to seize their land. Catte tells us about Kentucky widow Ollie Combs trying to block the bulldozers that were destroying her house in 1965.  (See a page on Appalachian Women on the Appalachian Voices website.) The company made the argument that Combs owned everything above ground, but the mining company had purchased the resources underneath her property. The house stood in the way of extracting that mineral wealth.  Ollie Combs was arrested.  Catte tells us that Bill Strode, the Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist who documented Ollie Combs' act of  resistance, was also arrested. (See the article about Bill Strode on Wikipedia.)

It wasn't just about the destruction of the environment though that was also a serious issue.  It was about taking everything these people had--their homes and the farms that were their livelihood. This is the root cause of Appalachian poverty.

Before the labor regulations of the New Deal, the mining companies didn't treat their Appalachian employees much better. You can find out more about the serious exploitation that was going on by reading the History Channel's article about the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia, which was called "the largest labor uprising" in American history.  Although I was aware of the intense labor struggle between miners and mine owners in West Virginia,  I learned from Catte that the mine owners actually had a private army which was dropping bombs on the strikers from private planes.  The fight to preserve Blair Mountain as a historical site is currently ongoing. It's slated for mountaintop removal mining. (See this article on the Progressive.org website.)

Catte also mentions  Black Appalachians in her book. If you read Vance's book you'd think that there were no African Americans in Appalachia.

Elizabeth Catte has an extensive bibliography to bolster her arguments.   It was refreshing to see her perspective. She successfully proves that there have been  and still are Appalachian radicals, and that the population of Appalachia is more ethnically diverse than Vance portrays.

                       











                             

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Lost Pilots--Aviation History Marred By True Crime

I won The Lost Pilots by Corey Mead from Goodreads giveaways.  It was published last month, so I'm about a month late with my review.  I admit that I've been a good deal later than that, but I do wish I could manage to be more timely.  I read giveaway books in the order that I receive them rather than the order that I won them.  So the next book on the giveaway pile was actually a 2017 win that arrived very late due to a mix up.  I hope to review it some time in July.

I wanted to read The Lost Pilots because the history of women's aviation is one of my abiding interests.  See the very first review that appeared on this blog of a book dealing with the female Russian WWII ace, Lilia Litvyak here.  So I hoped to find out about the female Australian aviator, Jessie Miller, by reading The Lost Pilots.

                                


The aviation history aspect of this book was fascinating.  I enjoyed reading about Jessie Miller's aviation accomplishments.  I even liked reading about the discrimination against women that held her back because it gave me a clearer picture of the experience of woman pilots during this period.  I felt that the speed limitations on women in the Women's Air Derby were the aviation equivalent of footbinding because they hobbled women probably due to a mistaken belief that women were incapable of flying safely at greater speed.   I considered this ironic because it seemed to me that it was William Lancaster who was incapable of flying safely.  He had a pattern of poor decisions that resulted in accidents which ruined his flying career.   He was continually being given opportunities and wrecking planes.  This caused potential employers to lose confidence in him.   Honestly, I don't know why anyone was impressed with Lancaster.

As much as I admired Jessie, she sure did have bad judgement about men. Over the course of the narrative, I kept on changing my mind about which of the men involved in the true crime sequence was worse. 
 
In the title of this review I state that The Lost Pilots was "marred" by true crime since this is a genre that makes me uncomfortable.  Because I tend to avoid true crime, I've never really thought about why I have problems with it.  In my entire past history on Goodreads, I've only shelved one of my reads as true crime.  It was Murder in the High Himalaya which I didn't review on a blog, but only on Goodreads.  I remember feeling that it was sordid with no redeeming value.  I love fictional crime novels for their clever plots, important themes, memorable protagonists and witty dialogue.   All of these are products of a novel's artistry.   True crime lacks these characteristics.  So all that's left is the facts of what occurred which can feel rather sordid.

I have friends who love true crime.  So they are likely to feel that The Lost Pilots was enlivened by true crime, rather than marred by it.   I will say that the true crime aspect of this book did affect me powerfully.  I was very conscious of the fact that these were real people and I cared very much about Jessie Miller. When I became fully aware of the personal consequences of these events for Jessie, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn't continue reading until the following day.  It seemed to me that she was more of a victim than the dead man, Haden Clarke, because she had to live with the repercussions for the rest of her life.

Since I can't imagine writing about the lives of Jesse Miller and William Lancaster without introducing Haden Clarke into the mix,  I suppose it was inevitable that this book was destined to include the true crime element, and that I would enjoy reading it less.  Yet Corey Mead's writing, organization and research are first rate.  So I would recommend The Lost Pilots from a historical perspective.

                              


                                

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Yes, We Do Need Better Science About Women

 I received a review copy of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong from Edelweiss last year. I admit that I should have gotten to it sooner. I finally read it because it was the Book of the Month on a Goodreads group.  I've posted some comments to the group's discussion thread, but I know that isn't sufficient.  When I request books from Edelweiss, I commit to reviewing them on my blog.  My review is rather late, but I still feel that I owe the publisher and Edelweiss a blog review.  So let's see if I can generate one. 

                                




 I consider Inferior a survey on the subject of science written about women which has actually been dealt with in more depth in narrower books dealing with women in particular fields of science.  

Nevertheless, Saini points things out that I hadn't realized before.  For example,  I hadn't known that androgen increases risk-taking behavior, not aggression.   It occurred to me that there are both pros and cons to being risk-takers.  Saini doesn't really discuss the implications of androgen and risk-taking very much.  Since women's hormone balance changes as we become older, does science show that post-menopausal women do in general take more risks than younger women?  I am skeptical about this possibility.

 I also hadn't known that in addition to human women only female killer whales survive past menopause. This is interesting, but then the book lets me down with obvious ideas about elders having something to contribute which is very inter-cultural.

So while I do agree that we need better science about women, I didn't find that Saini provided much in the way of fresh insight on the subject.

                          






                      

Nyira and the Invisible Boy--Slavery and Child Separation in a Historical Fantasy

While I was thinking about an approach to this review of Nyira and the Invisible Boy by K. M. Harrell, I realized that the opening of this novel related to current events.  Thousands of children have recently been separated from their parents who were seeking asylum in the United States.  I saw mention on social media of separation of families happening in the 18th and 19th century before the abolition of slavery. This timely reminder of shameful history became noteworthy for me because Harrell's historical fantasy contains an example.  It showed the young protagonist being tragically parted from her only parent.

After reading the description and seeing the extraordinary cover on Goodreads giveaways, I purchased a copy of Nyira and the Invisible Boy.  I considered it a must read and buying it was my best option.  Somewhat later, the author contacted me and requested a review.   I voluntarily agreed to provide one.

                             


Regarding the cover, I had already started writing this review when I came across a discussion  of the racist association of African Americans with primates on the blog Reading While White posted by Elisa Gall.  I think that African American author  K. M. Harrell is conscious of this association and was deliberately subverting that racist stereotype by showing gorillas to be superior to humans involved with slavery in his book. It's important to state that this intention is not visible to those whose only contact with this novel is viewing the cover. Yet it seems to me that associating a human being with an animal is only racist, if you accept that animals are inferior to humans.  I have never accepted the idea that humans are the culmination of the process of evolution.  On the scale of evolution, humans are recent.   Human dominance may also be very temporary. Sadly, some key dominant humans seem intent on committing species suicide by ignoring climate change.                      

 But let's get back to Nyira and the Invisible Boy.  The  female central character, Nyira , was a small child when she was  permanently separated from her father. Her village in the Congo during the 18th century, was attacked and destroyed by slavers.  Nyira fled the slavers, and encountered wild animals who were more humane than those humans who were most invested in maintaining slavery.  For a powerful book which focuses on wild animals parenting human children, see my review of the Australian novel Into That Forest here.

Nyira is eventually enslaved and is later transported to what is now known as Haiti where we meet the male protagonist, Enriquillo.

Enriquillo is a Taino.  Wikipedia and numerous other sources will tell you that the Taino were extinct by the  18th century, but Taino genes certainly survive in contemporary Haiti and Puerto Rico.  There are also numerous Taino cultural survivals.  So could there have been secret villages of Taino hiding in the mountains, as we see in Harrell's book?  We don't know for certain.  This is also a fantasy novel that involves paranormal gifts.   I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story, and this is a humdinger of a tale.  There is some cultural verisimilitude. Harell includes a bibliography of books that he consulted on Taino society and customs.  Yet he doesn't claim to be completely authentic.

I believe that the cooperation of Africans and Taino symbolized by the relationship of Nyira and Enriquillo is laying the ground for the future revolution in Haiti.  This is Haiti as I've never seen it before. Despite the horrors and degradations of slavery, I found Nyira and the Invisible Boy inspiring.   I consider it the best indie book that I've read in the first half of 2018.

                         


Friday, June 15, 2018

Illegal Holdings: UN Investigator Fights Corporate Plot In Mozambique

I  once took a MOOC  (Massive Open Online Course) on the Hague's international courts.  So I know that there is investigation of international crime.  I didn't know anything about U.N. investigation of fraudulent misuse of U.N. funds. It certainly makes sense that they would investigate if they received a report of possible fraud.  A brief search confirmed that there are such investigators.

Author Michael Niemann has been writing a thriller series about the cases of  fictional U.N. fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen.  Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Illegal Holdings, the third novel in this series which takes place in Mozambique.  This sounded like an unusual focus for a thriller, so I accepted a free copy from the publisher via Wiley Saichek.

                       

Vermeulen had been sent to Mozambique to determine whether a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) had fraudulently misappropriated $5 million of the U.N.'s funds.  This sounds like a routine case that is unlikely to generate much suspense.  Yet someone who has committed $5 million worth of fraud would be willing to do some pretty awful things to cover his or her tracks.

There  also turns out to be some underlying motivations for the fraud that involve agricultural and land use policy which are controversial and have tremendous impact.   Which is the best way to feed the world?  Should farming be family based and small scale with a large variety of crops, or should farms be large industrial single crop operations?  What happens when large corporations who are mainly concerned with their bottom line are pitted against the interests of local communities?  This is the central conflict in Illegal Holdings.

I admired Vermeulen for his commitment to justice and his willingness to take risks on behalf of marginalized people who need someone to advocate for them.   I also very much liked his relationship with investigative journalist Tessa Bishonga whose work overlapped with Vermeulen's and helped to bring about a successful resolution of the case.


Since I believe that the issues that Vermeulen faces in Illegal Holdings are crucial ones that will decide the future of humanity as a whole, I was very much invested in this story line.   I considered the underlying conspiracy behind these events completely believable and extremely chilling.   Michael Niemann has written an immensely powerful thriller.  I can't imagine what he'll do for an encore in his next Vermeulen book.

                           

                              

                         

Friday, June 8, 2018

The White Mirror (Li Du #2) --Review of Mystery in 18th Century Tibet Plus Giveaway

So I said at the beginning of this year that I probably wasn't going to hold a giveaway, but I decided that I wanted to commemorate the 200th post on this blog.  It seemed appropriate somehow to do a giveaway of the second book of the Li Du series by Elsa Hart since my first giveaway was a copy of her first Li Du novel, Jade Dragon Mountain. See that review and giveaway here. Scroll down below my review to find out how to enter this giveaway and win the hardcover copy.

The copy I am giving away comes from the F2F mystery group that I attend.  The facilitator of that group receives many more review copies from publishers than she has the time to review.  So members get the opportunity to claim review copies for themselves.

A digital ARC of City of Ink (Li Du #3) recently arrived on my Kindle as a result of a review request from the publisher who sent it to me via Net Galley.  So I prioritized The White Mirror in order to catch up on the series.  I should have reviewed it some time ago, but late is certainly better than never.

                           


Tibet is a setting that particularly interests me.  I have read a number of Eliot Pattison's  Inspector Shan series which take place in contemporary occupied Tibet.  I have never read any book dealing with 18th century Tibet.  So this sets The White Mirror apart.

Before starting this book,  I knew relatively little about the pre-20th century history of Tibet or the history of the Dalai Lama.   Let me say that there were some eye openers in White Mirror.  I wasn't aware that the Fifth Dalai Lama  (1617-1682) was the first to rule all of Tibet.  Elsa Hart portrays a Tibet that was enmired in a ferment of factions.  The young sixth Dalai Lama and his regent had been overthrown by Lhazang Khan also known as  Lha-bzang Khan who had allied himself with China.  See his article on Wikipedia.   Some Tibetans still supported the Dalai Lama, and others supported neither ruler.

Into this chaotic situation comes the protagonist Imperial Librarian Li Du who is traveling to Lhasa with a caravan.   There is an atmosphere of fear and suspicion at the manor where the caravan takes shelter from a storm. As the caravan arrives, an apparent suicide of a visionary painter is discovered.  Li Du becomes convinced that the painter was murdered.  His investigation uncovers more than one secret conspiracy.

I have always been intrigued by the concept that Tibetan Buddhist lamas are tulkus.  What is a tulku?  Each lama is supposed to be a single reincarnated spirit that has been reborn for centuries and must be re-discovered as a child who will then become the next lama.  The process of discovering a tulku is a significant plot element in The White Mirror. 

 I wondered if  the history I discovered in this novel was consistent with the idea that the Dalai Lama is actually one reincarnated individual.   The conquering fifth Dalai Lama was certainly nothing like the pacifistic fourteenth Dalai Lama who holds court in contemporary Dharamsala.  Yet it's at least possible that the fourteenth Dalai Lama is the same individual who has evolved spiritually.  After all, spiritual evolution is supposed to be the goal of reincarnation.  Other readers may reach a different conclusion about tulkus.

I felt that The White Mirror had historical and cultural depth which makes it a solid candidate for one of my best reads of 2018.


                                       GIVEAWAY!

If you want to enter  for the giveaway of a hardback copy of The White Mirror, there are two requirements for entry.  You must fulfill both of them.

 1) You must visibly follow this blog which can be found on the right side of the page.  You will need to have a Google account in order to become a visible follower.

2)You will also need to:
a) either comment on this post telling me what interests you about the book with a contact e-mail.
b)or you can private message me on Goodreads.  In order to do this you must be a Goodreads member.  You can then go to my profile which is at the link I've given and click on More. The first menu item is Message.  Use "White Mirror Giveaway" as your subject and include a contact e-mail.

The deadline has passed with no one interested in this book.  Tuesday 6/26 this copy gets donated to the library.

                             




                                













         

                          

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Fairfax Incident: Investigating a Death in Early 1930's New York

My favorite mystery sub-genre is historical mystery, but I haven't had a chance to review any historical crime novel since February when I posted a review of one on Flying High Reviews here .  Now that I think about it, the portrait of  law enforcement corruption in 19th century San Francisco provided in Chinawoman's Chance by James Musgrave, isn't very different from the situation in New York in the early 1930's that I recently saw in The Fairfax Incident by Terrence McCauley. Yet I do need to make a distinction between the harsh lives of 19th century Chinese immigrants described in Musgrave's book, and the glittering privileged lives of the German aristocratic immigrants depicted in McCauley's mystery.

I was asked to review The Fairfax Incident by publicist Wiley Saichek and was provided with a review copy from the publisher via Net Galley.


                       


The PI protagonist Charlie Doherty was very much a part of NYC corruption when he worked for the police.  Mention is made of Teddy Roosevelt's crusade against police corruption in The Fairfax Incident.

This gives me a wonderful pretext for a historical digression. I remembered that Teddy Roosevelt had been a New York Police Commissioner, but it had been many years since I took a class in New York state history as an undergraduate history major.  So I did a search for more information and found a review of a book on the subject called  Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest To Clean Up Sin Loving New York by Richard Zacks.  It was reviewed by Krystal Thomas on the blog of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University here .  Although Roosevelt had been a failure, he made a reputation for himself as a reform minded Republican.  Those who like to remind us that the Republican Party had once been very different tend to use Abraham Lincoln as their example.  My favorite example is Teddy Roosevelt who ran for U.S. President as both a Republican and a Progressive.

Back to Charlie Doherty--He is no paragon of virtue, but he is sympathetic.  His wealthy patron, Van Dorn, who pays all his expenses and brings him clients, considers Doherty a hero because he rescued Van Dorn's son from a kidnapper.  Others might consider him a hero because he fought in WWI as a Marine.  Readers who are fans of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series are familiar with the problem of PTSD resulting from combat in WWI. Doherty is not immune to PTSD.  He experiences an instance of WWI flashbacks during the narrative.

The Fairfax Incident is the first book I've read dealing with the consequences of WWI that is set in the U.S.   The impact of Germany's defeat on German-Americans is central to the plot.  The author doesn't excuse the behavior of many of the German-American characters, but he does explain it.

The novel ends as more of an espionage thriller than a mystery.  Readers will learn whodunit, but there is an ongoing national security crisis involving the events leading up to WWII that is not resolved.   Presumably, there will be a sequel in which Doherty will continue to distinguish himself in service to his country.

I consider  The Fairfax Incident a thought provoking and suspenseful novel.

                         



           


                               

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bum Deal: Lassiter For The Prosecution

The twelfth novel in Paul Levine's Lassiter mysteries, Bum Deal, hasn't been released yet.  I'm reviewing an ARC that I received through the good graces of publicist Wiley Saichek via Net Galley.  I'm glad that I read and reviewed Bum Luck beforehand here--not only because it's an excellent book, but because it gave me some background that's important for fully appreciating the events of Bum Deal.

                               


Our hero Jake Lassiter has been through a great deal in his most recent adventure, Bum Luck.  He was probably feeling unmoored when State Attorney Raymond Pincher proposed that he prosecute a case.  Lassiter has been a defense attorney throughout his legal career, so this is a radical change.  Pincher told Lassiter that he and his entire office of prosecutors were recused from the case.  "Recused" is a legal term that I and many other Americans learned when the U.S. Attorney General recused himself last year.  It means that a lawyer can't be involved in a case because of a conflict.

Bum Deal addresses the ongoing issues of corruption in the justice system and the impact of frequent concussions on the lives of former NFL players like Jake Lassiter.  Yet it also deals with the sometimes problematic quandary of drawing the line between consensual sex and abuse, and how do you prosecute someone for murder when there's no body and no evidence?  I had to sympathize with Lassiter because it looked like a case that was impossible to win had been dumped into his lap at a very vulnerable time in his life.

If you really like plot twists in the mysteries that you read, there are a great number of them in Bum Deal.  I wondered if  this case could come to a satisfying resolution given all the obstacles that were thrown at Lassiter.  So the biggest surprise for me was that things turned out as well as they did.  I felt that justice was served in the end which is what I expect from a mystery.

                        
 


Build Me An Ark--Brenda Peterson Is The Priestess of the Peaceable Kingdom

After reading Brenda Peterson's memoir Build Me An Ark, I have to admit that my enthusiasm for Brenda Peterson is limitless.  I read this book in great gulps because I loved her thinking about animals and her experiences with them.

                             

This isn't a recent book.  Peterson describes situations for some wild animals in the late 20th century.  Their habitat and human relations with wild species have increasingly deteriorated since.    Readers should consider this book a historical account rather than a contemporary one.

Brenda Peterson's father was an employee of the U.S. Forestry Service.   Her early childhood was spent in a wilderness environment.  She encountered wild animals and felt a kinship with them.

Peterson loved the story of Noah's Ark because she interpreted the command to preserve animals to mean that animals had souls that made them worth saving.  As a child she constructed a small ark out of balsa wood and placed miniature plastic animals inside it.  She would sketch the inside of Noah's Ark as "the peaceable kingdom".  This is a utopian idea of interspecies cooperation that is derived from a prophetic Biblical passage (Isaiah 11:6).  It is supposed to happen after the coming of the Jewish messiah.  A famous depiction of "the peaceable kingdom" was painted by artist Edward Hicks in the 19th century.  The image of the painting reproduced below is public domain.

                           

Peterson includes a number of striking instances of interspecies cooperation in her memoir. The most notable is probably the research dolphin that warned Peterson's pregnant sister about the health of her baby.  She also mentions a friendship between a Siberian husky and a whale.  These are heartwarming and inspiring.

There are also sad tales like the story of the real Smokey Bear, a cub who was rescued from a forest fire and brought to live in a prison called a zoo in Washington D.C.

Just know that if you love animals and believe in animal rights advocacy, you will want to know about Brenda Peterson.

                          


                               

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bum Luck--My Introduction to the Lassiter Mysteries

Paul Levine has written twelve mysteries focusing on Jake Lassiter.  Bum Luck is the eleventh one.  The twelfth, Bum Deal, will be released next month.  Publicist Wiley Saichek asked me to review Bum Deal, but suggested that I should read Bum Luck beforehand and sent me a free copy. This was the reverse of bum luck.   In fact, I consider it very good luck indeed.

                          

The first thing I noticed was the snappy dialogue.  Up until now my favorite dialogue in mysteries was in the Spenser novels by Robert Parker.  Lassiter's is of a different order.  It's full of pointed criticism of his own profession.

Jake Lassiter is a former linebacker in professional American football who has become a lawyer.  His having been a football player is very relevant to the plot of Bum Luck because this book deals with the tragic impact of  repeated concussions on the lives of many former football players.  Wikipedia has an article on this issue that provides a good introduction to it.  Bum Luck is also centrally concerned with corruption in the justice system.  I've seen the Lassiter series described as light, but this particular novel goes to some very dark places.

I found the characterization of Lassiter complex yet sympathetic.   Although Lassiter had done things he regrets, he seemed to me like a wounded hero which is my favorite type of protagonist. 

I had never seen frequent concussion syndrome as a theme in a novel.  I appreciated the honesty with which Levine approached this subject which lent Bum Luck a kind of raw intensity.

I considered this book both original and well-written.  I very much look forward to the digital ARC of Bum Deal that I've obtained through the good graces of Wiley Saichek via Net Galley.

                         


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3) by Rachel Caine

I've had  a Net Galley copy of Ash and Quill, the third book in the YA Great Library series by Rachel Caine for some time, and now I've been approved by the publisher for the fourth book, Smoke and Iron.  I really apologize.  I should have gotten to it sooner.  I'm trying to read more Net Galleys this year.

This alternate history dystopian series is fascinating to me conceptually.  I've reviewed Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire on this blog at the locations I've hyperlinked.

                         


                                                          
The focus of Ash and Quill is the implementation of a pivotal forbidden technology in  Philadelphia which is a Burner city opposed to the Great Library.  The Burners of this alternate America are trying to evade control by the authoritarians in charge of the Great Library, but leaders of movements that oppose established institutions may also want to consolidate their own power.  We have seen this in our timeline over and over.  The comedian W.C. Fields famously stated a mordant preference for being in Philadelphia.   I assure you that there are no circumstances in which he'd rather be in this Philadelphia.
 
I've seen  Khalila, the Islamic hijabi character, mentioned approvingly in reviews.  Khalila is one of the small group of rebels who are the heroes of this series.  She is one of my favorites too, but I wondered why she is portrayed as standing for prayer at one point in Ash and Quill.   I've usually seen Muslim prayer in the prostration position with the forehead touching the ground.  As a result of a search for this review, I now know that there is a sequence of Islamic prayer postures that apparently usually begins with a calming and centering period of standing.  See this article on islamreligion.com .  So I learned a bit more about Islam due to having read this book.

I enjoyed savoring a few morsels of Burner history.  Benjamin Franklin was a Burner in the Great Library timeline.   For those who know Benjamin Franklin's history as an inventor in our universe,  there is a moment of supreme irony in this book that I appreciated.  The inclusion of Benjamin Franklin caused me to wonder about other historical figures in the context of the Great Library and Burners.  I'd like to see how they fared in Rachel Caine's universe.

Ash and Quill does end on a dramatic cliffhanger, but fortunately I have an ARC of the sequel ready to go on my e-reader.  So our heroes needn't be left dangling for long.  I hope to review Smoke and Iron relatively soon.

                                   


Monday, April 23, 2018

Banthology--Stories From Banned Countries

In honor of World Book Day, which is celebrated today in the U.S., I've decided to post my review of Banthology edited by Sarah Cleave. This is a collection of seven stories from the seven nations that were banned in the first version of the 2017 U.S. executive order on immigration.  All the stories have been translated into English from their original languages.   I received a digital copy from Edelweiss in return for this honest review.

                           




Sarah Cleave states in her introduction that one goal of the anthology is to show that people from these countries aren't all terrorists.  She also says that she hopes that the book will help to make the world "a more welcoming and gracious place".  It's fair to state that every story is at least implicitly a criticism of the 2017 executive order on immigration. In the U.S, disagreement with government positions is constitutionally protected speech.  If a reviewer were to take issue with my opinions about this book, that would also be constitutionally protected speech.

There were stories with strong satiric elements.  I would characterize them as overtly critical of  the 2017 immigration executive order.  One of them was my favorite story in the anthology because it was a more complex tale with multiple themes.  Satire of the executive order was only one of its purposes.

That story is "Return Ticket" by Najwa Binshatwan of Libya.   I loved it because it's a magical realist story that also contained satire of rigid Islamic fundamentalism.   It is written in the form of a letter by the female protagonist addressed to her grandchild who hasn't yet been born.   The story deals with satiric depictions of the places where she traveled, her relationship with her husband and her attempt to return to the fictional utopian village of Schrödinger.  It was presumably given this name because of the village's uncertain location like the physicist Erwin Schrödinger's theoretical cat which might be either alive or dead.  It's a clever story with a well-developed viewpoint character who I found sympathetic.

I liked other stories for particular features that caused them to stand out for me.  "Bird of Paradise" by Rania Mamoun of Sudan was stylistically beautiful, and "Jujube" by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah of Somalia contained an intriguing medicine woman character who would have been my preferred protagonist.   Unfortunately, the viewpoint character was one of her daughters.

There were other contributions to Banthology that I disliked either because I despised all the characters, or because I felt those stories didn't make a strong enough statement.

I was attracted to the anthology by its central concept which I felt was well-intended.   The stories that I liked made Banthology worthwhile particularly Binshatwan's excellent "Return Ticket".

                         


                           

 


                               

                                

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Binti:The Night Masquerade--The Xenophiles vs The Xenophobes

Xenophiles are those who are comfortable with people who aren't like them.  Xenophobes hate and fear people who are different.  They are only comfortable with people who are similar to them.  The xenophobes don't understand xenophiles.  In fact, for them xenophiles are among those who they hate and fear.

I have always identified science fiction as a xenophile genre.  Of course science fiction isn't all xenophilic. There's xenophobic science fiction and it's immensely popular.  Yet being a xenophile is a possible approach to science fiction.  There's a whole tradition of science fiction that's created by and for xenophiles--most notably Star Trek.
                                


As I read the third Binti book by Nnedi Okorafor, it occurred to me that I like Binti because she's a xenophile, and that her series of novellas is really about the conflict between xenophiles and xenophobes.  I expect that Okorafor is likely to be a xenophile herself or she couldn't write sympathetically about Binti.

 In Binti's world a xenophile is called a harmonizer.   They have a gift for building bridges between disparate groups, and finding common ground.  In our world the harmonizer is called a diplomat.  Xenophobes have tremendous contempt for diplomats.  They don't believe that any rapprochement with those who are different is possible.  They are resolved to either avoid those who are different or kill them.   When a harmonizer or diplomat is negotiating on behalf of a xenophobe and/or attempting to reach an agreement with a xenophobe, they are in the most challenging situation they will ever face.  Binti ends up in this situation in Binti: The Night Masquerade.

Since the events of this third book are so climactic, I somehow doubt there will ever be a fourth one.   If there ever is another Binti book, it will probably focus on another way of being a harmonizer which is mentioned in relation to Binti's fellow harmonizer, Mwinyi.  Perhaps there will be a Mwinyi trilogy.  I would look forward to that.

                         


                                

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Old Fashioned With A Twist: Sequel To Stone Cold Sober

Last month I reviewed Stone Cold Sober by Rebecca Marks hereOld Fashioned With A Twist picks up much closer to pregnant protagonist Dana Cohen's delivery date.  Her condition makes her very sympathetic to the plight of her ex-husband who asks her to find his kidnapped new baby.

 I received this most recent novel in the Dana Cohen mystery series as a gift from publicist Wiley Saichek in return for this honest review.

                              

 So the fate of  two infants takes center stage in this book -- the one who has been kidnapped and the one who is about to be born. This means the suspense is doubled.  Readers will worry about whether the kidnapped child will be restored alive and healthy to his parents, but another grave matter of concern is whether Dana's investigation will endanger her and the baby she carries.

As you might imagine, the father of Dana's baby is less than happy with these circumstances.  Yet Dana and Alex are still going forward with their plan to marry before the baby is born.  Dana must juggle the demands of her pregnancy, her wedding and the kidnapping investigation simultaneously. I think that this represents the superwoman syndrome.  Dana wants to be a wife, mother and use her professional skills.  This is a common expectation for 21st century women.   Some woman readers  may feel that Dana's experiences reflect their lives to a certain extent.  Others may think that Dana asks too much of herself.

In Stone Cold Sober Alex exceeded Dana's expectations by studying Judaism with the goal of conversion.   In Old Fashioned With A Twist, Alex expects to complete this process before the wedding.  Religion is evidently a higher priority for Alex than for Dana.  This may lead to conflict in their relationship in future Dana Cohen novels. 

Yet the plot line of the current book provides more than enough drama without any additional sources of strife.   The intensity of some scenes toward the end of Old Fashioned With A Twist makes the resolution of the case quite moving.  Mystery fans should be satisfied.

                                


  


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone

 The last book that I reviewed on this blog was Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor, a YA fantasy based in West African folklore that ended up disappointing me.  See my review here.

When I read that Tomi Adeyemi, the author of Children of Blood and Bone , had studied West African folklore, religion and culture in Brazil, I was intrigued.  I am particularly interested in Afro-Brazilian spirituality.  Then when I discovered that her magically gifted characters were divided into ten clans that were devoted to Yoruban spirits, I was completely sold on this novel.  I expected this to be the fantasy novel that I've been wanting to read for years. I have learned that high expectations are rarely met, but that never stops me from hoping that they'll be fulfilled. (So far the novel dealing with Yoruban spirits that has been closest to what I'm looking for is the 2016 alternate history Everfair by Nisi Shawl which I reviewed  here.)

                         

I think that this first book in a projected series was always destined to fall short for me because it starts off with the premise that the gods are believed to have disappeared.   I crave a protagonist who lives with at least one Yoruban spirit or egun (ancestor) as a constant presence.   Zelie, the protagonist of Children of Blood and Bone belongs to the clan devoted to Oya.   I would have been delighted to see a novel permeated with visions, dreams and consultations with Oya.   Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  Oya wasn't completely absent from Children of Blood and Bone, but she wasn't really a major focus of the book.  Since Oya has special significance for me, Adeyemi gets lots of points for including her in the narrative even though she played a relatively small role.

The main theme of this novel is persecution.  Adeyemi has an important message to deliver to readers.  It's even urgent in the current social climate as she emphasizes in her Author's Note, but she isn't the only current writer to focus on this theme.  If she could have fused her deep concern with crimes against minorities by authority figures with an equally deep Yoruban spirituality, she would have had a masterpiece.  She may one day write it.   This is only her first novel.   So I continue to have high hopes for Adeyemi's future work.

                         

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Akata Warrior: A Predictable Fantasy Plot With Some Fascinating Glimpses

I have to issue a disclaimer.  I didn't read the book that preceded this one, Akata Witch.  I read some reviews that said that it was like Harry Potter.  Since I couldn't get past the first page of the first Harry Potter novel, this wasn't an inducement to read it. I've been reading fantasy since the 1960's.  I'm a very jaded reader who is always looking for the unusual.   It seems to me that the premise of the Harry Potter series is formulaic, and I really can't abide formula.   I nevertheless made an attempt to read Akata Witch because I have loved several of Nnedi Okorafor's books for adults.  Let's just say, I didn't get very far.

So why did I decide to read the sequel?  It sounded like it had possibilities, that it might be more complex than Akata Witch.

                   


Since I have always believed that books should stand on their own, I was pleased that there was background to bring me up to speed on what I'd missed by not reading Akata Witch.  I was introduced to Sunny, an American born girl of Nigerian descent whose family returned to Nigeria.

 Sunny is also an albino.  I researched the persecution of albinos in Africa, and was horrified by what I discovered.  See a newspaper article about the situation for albinos in Malawi in 2016. I also found a recent post on the Albino Foundation blog dealing with discrimination against albinos in Nigeria here.   Akata Warrior caused me to become more aware of this issue.

My favorite scene in this novel involved a cowrie shell divination that blew my socks off.   I would love to read more about Bola, the diviner.  She was totally awesome.   At that point in my reading of Akata Warrior, I posted on a Goodreads group that I thought it was the best book I'd read by Nnedi Okorafor.

 Unfortunately, after the divination, the narrative became predictable.   I am so bored by formula fantasy villains with no motivation except being evil.  I've been bored by them for decades. That's why I tend to avoid any book that has even a whiff of standardized fantasy about it.   So I was disappointed by Akata Warrior, but I don't regret reading it.  I loved the glimpses of Nigerian culture that Okorafor provided, and I'm very much looking forward to  Binti: The Night Masquerade.

                             
 
                             

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Full Circle: Topical Novel About An Iraqi Woman Refugee

The central character of Full Circle by Regina Timothy escaped an honor killing by her family in Iraq and managed to flee to the U.S.   I've read a really extraordinary book about an honor killing in the Druze community of Israel called The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice 
which I reviewed here.  In that review I discuss honor killing as a world wide trans-cultural phenomenon.  I didn't choose to read Full Circle because it was about an honor killing.  Its themes are broader. It deals with a number of issues that have been at the center of discussion in the U.S. That's why I requested it for from the author in return for this honest review.

                     
 

 In addition to honor killings, Timothy's characters grapple with immigration, terrorism, Islamophobia, the impact of the Iraq War on both Iraqis and Americans, income disparity, bullying and the often related issue of school shootings.   So Full Circle is very topical.  I appreciated seeing how the author made connections between all these issues through the events of her plot.

I admired central character Samia Al-Sayid's ability to survive so much adversity.  She isn't a strong woman protagonist on the model of Wonder Woman. Some readers appear to believe that only women who are action heroes can be considered strong, but Samia is internally strong.  That is why she is the one left standing amidst so much tragedy.

 As other reviews have mentioned, the story is often quite moving but since this is a first novel, I was not surprised to find flaws.  There are  moments of overt didacticism in which the author appears to be telling us what to think through the mouth of her protagonist.   I'd prefer not to see that in a novel.  Readers should be considered capable of drawing their own conclusions from events.  Full Circle could also use more thorough proofreading.  There were occasional missing words and words out of order in common phrases or place names. As a New Yorker by birth, I considered  "Central Grand Station" instead of Grand Central Station the most obvious example.  The errors weren't frequent, and I was able to determine what the author intended.   Many readers may not be bothered by mistakes that don't interfere too much with the book's readability.  Yet I feel that authors should take care that published products offered for sale on websites represent their best work.

When I ran a search on Regina Timothy, I expected to find that she is an American or an immigrant to the United States. I was surprised to learn that she is a Kenyan who resides in Kenya.  Full Circle shows so much familiarity with the social reality of  immigrants and minorities in the U.S.  This represents a great measure of success in her first novel.  So I recommend that  Timothy continue to practice her craft.   Her future work can only improve.