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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington

I am very aware that I decided to read and review an alternate history about America's first President that sounds dire on President's Day weekend.   I would like readers to know that this book by Charles Rosenberg shows George Washington in a very positive light for the most part.  I received it from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this review.


 The fact that Rosenberg's novel is an alternate history means that the book was quite suspenseful for me because I had no idea of how far it would wander from our timeline.  George Washington is in British hands.  The fate of the American Revolution is in doubt.  I wouldn't want to ruin that suspense for other readers by giving even a hint about how the novel ends.

Although Rosenberg's George Washington did not regard himself as irreplaceable, some characters in this novel appeared to believe that the revolution that resulted in the formation of the United States had no general other than Washington who could have led Americans to victory.  Yet there is a mention in this book of General Morgan and his defeat of the British at Cowpens which did happen in our version of history.  There is an illuminating page about General Daniel Morgan at a website called The History Junkie written by Russell Yost.  Daniel Morgan sounds like an unusual figure.  I would like to know more about him.

Rosenberg's portrayal of George Washington seemed to me very authentic with one exception.   Last year I reviewed a non-fiction book  about the American Revolution called Scars of Independence here.  At the time, I noted that this work of history characterized Washington as someone who cared very much about his reputation. That's why I didn't think it likely that Washington would have publicly joked about adultery as he did in a scene in this novel.  Then he tried to rescue himself by adding that he was completely faithful to his wife.  At the very least, he had placed himself  in an awkward situation by making such a joke.  Probably Rosenberg wanted to humanize his Washington.  It just didn't seem to me that Washington would have wanted to embarrass himself that way.

On the other hand,  I thought there was some really entertaining dialogue at various points in this novel.   Some of my favorite lines were spoken during Washington's trial.

Rosenberg's historical notes showed me that his alternate history is so credible because it was based on real possibilities.   I always appreciate when authors of fiction involving history do the necessary research to make characters and events convincing.  This is why I would consider The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington a successful example of this speculative fiction sub-genre.



Thursday, February 15, 2018

And The Wolf Shall Dwell-- A UK Indie Spy Thriller

I decided to read  the indie spy thriller novel And The Wolf Shall Dwell by Joni Dee because  I was interested in the perspective of this new Israeli-Canadian author.  So I accepted a free copy from Joni Dee in return for this honest review.


Like most spy thrillers, And The Wolf Shall Dwell is plot driven. So it will fulfill the expectations of thriller fans who expect a fast paced plot with a great deal of action.   Joni Dee's protagonists aren't unthinking, but neither do they bog the plot down with a great deal of angst.

A book is written in a different moment in history than the one the current reader is experiencing.    To this American reader, the references to the American President in this novel seemed very out of sync with my reality.   I had to remind myself that this is fiction.  This novel's American President may have been someone who previously occupied that office.  It would also be perfectly legitimate for the author to create political leaders or situations that have never existed for speculative purposes.  The events are credible enough so that they could have happened in those particular circumstances.  One character is so much a relic of an earlier era that he has no home, and you have to wonder what he thinks of what has happened to his country of origin.

I visited the website of the publisher of this book, Blue Poppy Publishing, because I hadn't previously heard of it.   Although they expect authors to either pay for the costs of publication or crowdfund them, they make a distinction between what they do and a vanity press.   Blue Poppy says that they provide guidance for authors as well as services, and they will not publish a shoddy product.  There are a great many self-published books that are unedited first drafts uploaded to book vending websites.   We have all encountered them.  I am happy to say that  And The Wolf Shall Dwell confirms Blue Poppy's publicity.   It is a competently written novel with a suspenseful narrative.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

By A Charm and a Curse--A Teen Fantasy Romance

When I received the review request from the publisher for By A Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell, the request emphasized how much I had loved Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond which I reviewed here.   I considered the Gwenda Bond novel one of the best books I read in 2014.  It's also among my favorite circus novels of all time.

 It's definitely true that I love books about circuses and carnivals, but I'm also very picky about them.  I called the bestselling Erin Morgenstern novel The Night Circus inauthentic and superficial in my review of Girl on a Wire.  So let this be a warning to those who want me to review their circus or carnival novels.  I did obtain an ARC of  By A Charm and a Curse via Net Galley in return for this honest review.


So let's start with what worked.  The romantic heroine and hero were very sympathetic. Their relationship was intense and moving.  Jaime Questell should definitely continue writing romance.   She understands how to engage the reader's emotions.

I thought that the fantasy aspect of the charm and the curse could have applied to any high risk occupation.   They could have been a unit of mercenaries, for example.  There is nothing that makes this inherently a story about carnival performers.

There also weren't any performers with high risk acts who were central to the novel.  So we don't really get very much of their perspective.  There was  relatively little space devoted to performances or training.  For me, a tumbler or aerialist's breathtaking act is what makes carnivals and circuses magical.   So there wasn't enough of the content that draws me to novels of this type.

 Girl On A Wire was about an especially daring aerialist who filled me with awe.  The novel was about the risks she took and her motivations for taking them as much as it was about a Romeo and Juliet romance.  By A Charm and a Curse was primarily about characters who didn't belong in a carnival and didn't want to be there.  I felt that as a fan of carnivals, I was not part of the intended audience for this book.

For me, the romance aspect was the most appealing part of  By A Charm and a Curse.  Romance fans should be satisfied by it.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Goddess of Battle--Can Optimism About the Two State Solution Be Justified?

I was hoping that Goddess of Battle by Gwendolyn Rachel Ackerman,  would be inspiring.  I wanted to read a book that could make me believe that peace between Jews and Arabs in the nation known as Israel is attainable.  That's why I downloaded it from Net Galley for review.  It was released by the indie publisher, Black Rose Writing.


Tyra, the American Jewish protagonist, is the idealistic daughter of two progressive political activists.   Tyra also seemed easily influenced until her values were seriously challenged by events in Israel.  She then began to make her own decisions,  but it was within the framework of wanting either her parents or her grandparents to be proud of her.  So she was never completely independent minded. From an Israeli perspective, she seemed quite extraordinary. Yet she came from a family where dissent was normal.

Noureen, the Palestinian protagonist, found herself standing in opposition to her religiously conservative Islamic family at significant moments in the narrative.  So it seemed to me that she was more independent than Tyra who often ended up following her upbringing.

Goddess of Battle tended to associate traditional religious approaches with intolerance and inflexibility.  The Jewish characters who were most open to cooperation with Arabs were secular in their orientation.  The Haredi characters are West Bank settlers who were strongly opposed to the two state solution. (For an extended discussion of the Haredi see this review.)

American readers who are viewing this situation from the outside, may imagine that the two state solution will necessarily bring peace.  I considered this a facile attitude before I read this novel.  Goddess of  Battle clarified the immensity of the challenges involved in carving two states out of the territory that is now Israel.

 I believe that the official encouragement of Jewish West Bank settlement has rendered the two state solution impossible.  The current Israeli government has already deliberately blown past the tipping point.  Even if that weren't so, there would still be bitter land disputes over drawing the borders of each state.   As someone with relatives in Haifa, I was horrified by the character in this novel whose map of Palestine included Haifa.  Did that character believe in the right of Israel to exist? I was not entirely convinced that all the Arab characters in Goddess of Battle who advocated the two state solution were sincere.  Given the human rights violations that Israel has perpetrated which are poignantly illustrated in this book, I understand the deep resentment against Israel.  Yet bad faith negotiation will not fix the situation.

The biggest obstacle to peace will always be Jerusalem/Al Quds, a sacred place in three religions. It seems to me that the Haredi are settling on the West Bank to prevent Jewish loss of access to Jerusalem.  This is not a fantasy based on religious extremism.  Jews had no access to Jerusalem when the West Bank was part of Jordan.  There are many Jewish Israelis alive today who remember being denied access to Jerusalem.

Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, the sons of  Abraham. In the Bible God promised Abraham and his descendants the Land of Canaan.  This common heritage could be a basis for peace and cooperation within a shared territory, but instead the descendants of these two brothers seem destined to destroy one another trying to establish which ones are Abraham's true heirs.

I believe that Gwendolyn Rachel Ackerman intended Goddess of Battle to be a beacon of hope for its readers.  It saddened me because I truly don't see how we get to peace from here.