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Friday, August 31, 2018

Killing in C Sharp--African American Woman Solves Mysteries in Ireland

I received Killing in C Sharp by Alexia Gordon from Net Galley, but read it recently because it's going to be discussed next week at the F2F mystery book club that I attend.   It's the third in a paranormal mystery series whose protagonist, Gethsemane Brown, is a school musical director in a small Irish village.  Like author Alexia Gordon, Gethsemane is African American.  The first book in the series, Murder in G Major reveals how Gethsemane ended up in Ireland.   If you feel that it's important to know the central character's background, by all means read Murder in G Major before this book. Yet I should point out that Gethsemane's U.S. background plays no role in Killing in C Sharp. So it's definitely possible to read this book first. I read Murder in G Major before there were any other books in the series and enjoyed it for the most part.  This inclined me to read another book in the series.


Gethsemane rents a cottage that is haunted by a ghost.  So the owner of the cottage decided to pay a ghost hunting TV series to film an episode at his cottage.  Since I tend to suspect TV ghost hunters of faking the phenomena that they are supposedly investigating, I almost didn't read this book.  I expected it to deal with frauds discovering that there actually was a ghost which is mildly amusing, but I felt that I had better things to do with my reading time.   I turned out to be wrong about the TV ghost hunters.  There was also content that was a great deal more interesting to me.

Gethsemane invited an Irish composer, Aed Devlin, to give a series of lectures to her students.  Devlin was also premiering a new opera which was based on a Hungarian legend associated with a curse.  I happen to be an opera fan, and the legend described in the book definitely caused this feminist to sit up and take notice. I researched the story and learned that it isn't an actual Hungarian legend.  Alexia Gordon created it probably from the bones of a folk tale called The Walled Up Wife .  It's a different yet equally awful story from a feminist perspective, but Gordon's addition of a curse and a ghost vastly improved the narrative.

The murder expected by mystery lovers happened, and the local Catholic priest was given an opportunity to contribute a very fine witticism which I just adored.  I'll leave my readers to discover it for themselves.

 I consider Killing in C Sharp better than its description and the mystery more intriguing than in the first novel in the series.  The resolution was inventive.  I can't wait to see what Alexia Gordon comes up with in her next Gethsemane Brown novel.




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.