Saturday, November 28, 2020


The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden, Del Rey, 2019, 354 pp

In this final volume of her Winternight Trilogy, Katherine Arden goes ever more deep into the conflicts that have powered all three books.

Vasilisa Pretrovna first appeared in The Bear and the Nightingale as a young girl who loved exploring the forest near her village in medieval Russia. She can see and communicate with the spirits who protect her house, yard and forest from evil. But her devout stepmother is determined that she either marry or be locked away in a convent. At 13, Vasilisa escapes to Moscow in search of her brother.

In The Girl in the Tower, she disguises herself as a boy and on her beloved horse, a magical creature himself, becomes involved in the struggle to save Moscow from forces both tribal and mysterious. These adventures attract the attention of the Grand Prince.

The Winter of the Witch brings Vasilisa into her full powers. She has been denounced as a witch, she has been targeted by the wicked Bear demon, and must flee Moscow to save her life. Her purpose though is to save Moscow and to unite the conflicting worlds of Christianity and the old spirits. Her true love, the Frost King, not even human himself, comes to her aid as do many of the spirits.

So in the final book there is more danger than ever for this brave young woman, there is war in which Moscow is outnumbered by its enemies, and she embraces all her powers. Thus her struggle is both external and internal. Despite horrific losses she prevails.

"What did we gain?" she asks the Frost King.

"A future," he replies. "For men will say in later years that this was the battle that made Rus into a nation of one people."

And the spirit world? Read the entire trilogy and find out! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


Alice Paul, Claiming Power, J D Zahinser & Amelia R Fry, Oxford University Press, 2014, 702 pp

Embarrassing as it is, I had never heard of Alice Paul before. I read this for the October meeting of The Bookie Babes reading group. It was tough getting through the book but I don't regret the time spent. Now I know that Alice Paul was the key person who got American women the right to vote in every state by pushing until the 19th Amendment was passed, ratified and adopted on August 26, 1920.

Alice Paul was born and raised Quaker in New Jersey. The book covers her entire life, her thirst for knowledge, her struggle for equal rights for women, and the incredibly strong purpose she found within herself.

Due to a dry, scholarly tone, the book was at time dull, but I am forever grateful to my reading group for choosing to read it as well as to J D Zahniser and Amelia R Fry for all their hard work to ensure the full story got told.

I knew about Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It took 80 years for what they and many, many other women started to become Constitutional Law. To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg, if you change the law you change society. Changing laws is a long hard process. Ask any woman, any person of color, any immigrant.

Still, injustice and inequality can be put right as long as we who see the need for change do not give up, as long as we recognize how slowly that change comes and how many setbacks need to be overcome.

I will never be as focused, as brave, as full of purpose as Alice Paul was, but I have gotten to know another role model and heroine to inspire me and keep me on my own path.

Since finishing the book, I have watched the feature film, Iron Jawed Angels. It was OK but had I not read this book, the movie would have had much less impact. Hilary Swank portrayed Alice Paul as a little too fluffy. The book give you all sides of her. Like any human being, she had many sides. Her strengths outweighed her weaknesses so definitively that she was able to channel the work of perhaps millions of women who have fought for our rights.

If you can take it, I urge you, whether you are male or female or anywhere on that spectrum to read this book.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


Fifty Words For Rain, Asha Lemmie, Dutton Books, 2020, 464 pp 

I read this for a reading group. I think we all chose it because of the title, the amazing cover and the setting: post WWII Japan. Each of us had mixed feelings about the story leaning towards positive.

Asha Lemmie worked on her first novel for many years, with large breaks in between stints of writing. I can relate! It is an engrossing tale, sometimes a bit too melodramatic, though in the good way that Charles Dickens does melodrama. It was always a page turner, always satisfying, except for the ending. We puzzled over that ending for quite a while in our discussion.

Noriko Kamiza, the central character, has a tragic past. She is the daughter of a Japanese heiress and an African American soldier and was abandoned by both parents. She has been hidden away as a disgrace by her maternal aristocratic grandmother in the attic of the family estate. She has been made to know that she is not worthy, due to her darker skin. Her training is to be silent, never to resist.

Needless to say, that part of Noriko's life is heartbreaking. Though she finally finds a protector and a sense of self in her older brother, more heartbreak follows until she rises above her fears and broken spirit to effect that disturbing ending.

After continuing to be haunted by the novel for many days, I concluded that is was the fairytale atmosphere created by the author that drew me in as I read and kept me captivated until the end. Best of all, she made me ponder which choices I would have made if I were Noriko.

Good read for fans of Lisa See as well as Toni Morrison.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


Bellefleur, Joyce Carol Oates, Dutton Books, 1980, 724 pp

Back when the libraries were still closed, I went browsing through my own stacks of unread books and pulled out three Joyce Carol Oates novels I have owned for decades. One of those was Angel of Light, but from the dust cover flap I learned that it was preceded by Bellefleur, the first of JCO's foray into the Gothic genre.

I located the book in my library's eBook catalogue and dived in. The novel takes place in a fictional rendition of the Adirondack Mountain region of upstate New York. The Bellefleurs are a large clan who first became wealthy landowners shortly after the Revolutionary War.

The main characters, descendants of the most successful Bellefleurs, live in an enormous Gothic mansion on the shores of Lake Noir. Three generations currently live there but earlier generations continually spill out of attics, armoires, graves and legends. The family is down on its luck when the novel opens. The birth of Germaine, daughter of Gideon and Leah, sets the family on a ruthless plan to recover both their wealth and prestige. Germaine remains a small child through the rest of the book with special powers that drive the plot. 

In the course of numerous unsettling tales of passion, violence, feuds, and reckless adventure we learn the family's history. It takes being able to hold a plethora of characters in one's mind. Since they all, dead or alive, reappear regularly I was somewhat able to keep track. A family tree helped as well.

If you like long novels as much as I do, Bellefleur is wonderfully immersive. Every character looms larger than life and a history of American economic greed in the name of progress is presented in all its horror. From reading world history I know there are such families in every era of civilization. JCO created for us one of our very own American families and I found an allegory for what we have been exposed to politically and socially in the 21st century so far. She wrote the book in the late 1970s so once again played her role as prophetess.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


Going To Meet the Man, James Baldwin, Dial Press, 1965, 249 pp

 This was Baldwin's first collection of short stories. Five had been published in magazines between 1948 and 1960. The remaining three were published for the first time in the book. 

From reading the David Leeming biography, I could see that many of them are based on incidents from Baldwin's life or on people he knew.

Each story is as powerful as any of his novels, well-formed and filled with descriptions that feel present and real, as does the emotional content. In fact, I have rarely read short stories as good as these, especially from that time period. 

The final story, which gave the book its title, could be a summarization of Baldwin's views on racism in America. He delves into the legacy of slavery and the complicated sexual connotations between white and black due to the abuse of slaveowners against black female slaves, which often resulted in mixed race children. He distills what could have been a major thesis into 21 pages of searing fiction.

I have long held an aversion to short stories. Do you like to read them? If yes, can you recommend your favorite short story writers? For me, as with poetry, it works to read only one short story a day. I am considering an attempt to write some of my own.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Mysteries and Thrillers: Mini Reviews

 Over the past weeks, I filled in my more serious reading with some mysteries and thrillers. I feel that this kind of reading gives us a sort of satisfaction because those that deserve it get what is coming to them. So I give you some mini reviews of the ones I have read.

The Fallen Angel, Daniel Silva, HarperCollins, 2012, 464 pp

I keep thinking I am going to get tired of Silva's formula. Well, not yet.

Gabriel Allen, the Israeli assassin, and his wife are living in Rome. He is getting some well deserved rest from his last mission, actually restoring a painting at the Vatican, a Caravaggio. 

Of course, someone dies, a woman, in St Peter's. It looks like a possible suicide but neither Gabriel nor the Pope's private secretary think so. It is a delicate matter so Gabriel is on the job again.

Involved are Hezbolla, the Vatican Bank, and a huge act of terrorist sabotage. As always in Silva's books, the plotting is superb. Though Gabriel is in no shape to attempt death defying moves, he can run the operation. A great plot twist just when the Office (Israeli intelligence) thinks they have won ramps the plot up even further.

I was glad to be back fighting terrorism with Gabriel and his team. I have been reading this series for a while and only have eight more to go.

High Country, Nevada Barr, G P Putnam's Sons, 2004, 301 pp

Once again, a best ever in this series featuring Anna Pigeon, National Park Ranger.

Anna goes undercover as a waitress at Yosemite National Park to investigate the disappearance of four young park employees. She sets off into the snowy wilderness only to encounter life threatening events. There is always a bit of romance in Nevada Barr's mysteries. Though Anna is now engaged she finds herself attracted to a chef in the kitchen of the famous Ahwahnee Hotel.

Extreme suspense but of course she solves the case, which boils down to drug dealers. I loved being in Yosemite with her since my husband and I have driven through the park and eaten in that famous restaurant. 

I read this one in two days. It is #12 in the series and I have seven more to go.

Count Zero, William Gibson, Arbor House, 1986, 246 pp

Count Zero follows Neuromancer as the second book in Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy. Sprawl is his term for a future mega-city stretching from Boston to Atlanta, connected by a cyber network populated by jackers, criminals and various semi-religious beings that include AIs.

As wild as this must have sounded in the 1980s, one gets the sense these days that such guys might actually exist in the world.

I liked this one even a bit more than Neuromancer because the main characters had more humanity to them. Like you can be a keyboard cowboy and still have a heart? Plus this time I felt more at home in Gibson's crazy world.

Count Zero is a new character, a misfit high school boy who wants to play in the cyber network and ends up helping Turner, the main character in the earlier book, out of his next hot spot.

 A good technopunk adventure.

Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart, Fawcett Publications, 1965, 255 pp

This one came from the 1965 list of My Big Fat Reading Project. It was nominated for an Edgar Award and I have been following her novels through a couple of decades. 

Vanessa March has agreed to escort her best friend's 17 year old son to Austria. Actually she herself is on a mission to track down her husband who is supposedly in Stockholm on business but is worryingly out of touch. Vanessa has just seen his picture in a newsreel story about a circus fire in Austria.

Naturally she fears the worst: that he is with another woman. She and the boy, Timothy, visit the scene of the fire at the circus and stumble into a web of stolen goods, international drug smuggling and the disappearance of a famed Lipizzaner stallion after his groom died in the fire.

In true Stewart fashion, we learn plenty about circus life, dressage and life in an Austrian village. Vanessa and Timothy, on the trail of the stallion, stay in an old castle, now a hotel. The atmosphere there is distinctly Gothic. The details of the horse with his ability to do the dressage movement called "airs above the ground" is woven into the story, which sometimes interrupts the suspense but it always gets back to the mystery soon enough.

I was captivated all the way by this page turner of a mystery.

Have you read any of these books or others by this author? What mysteries or thrillers have you enjoyed lately?

Monday, November 09, 2020


The Princes of Ireland, Edward Rutherfurd, Doubleday, 2004, 765 pp

I attempted to read this historical fiction set in early Ireland years ago when we traveled to the country. Though it is like Rutherfurd's other books as well as like Michener's, in that it follows certain families through the generations, I just could not grasp it. It seemed like too much work.

Early in September I decided to read the biography of WB Yeats I bought last year when I was reading his collected poems. Starting the biography I realized Yeats's life was very much tied up with political events during the years he was writing and though I have read quite a bit of Irish fiction I still have confusions about those conflicts.

I still had The Princes of Ireland on my shelves so I gave it another try. My experience of reading The Thrall's Tale gave me a more determined approach and I found Rutherfurd's book less daunting. He provides maps and family trees. Perhaps I have become a better reader too!

I learned much of what I needed to know. Even though I had pored over maps before our trip there, I got a  better idea of the geography. I learned about the early years (400 AD) when the island's people were Celtic, arranged in families, clans and tribes and divided into five kingdoms, each with it own king. 

Later came the Vikings, then the English and the French. St Patrick brought Christianity which gradually overtook the ancient religions, gods and spirits. The monks of Ireland are included in the book and some of those characters were the ones who kept the written scriptures from falling away during the Medieval centuries. 

By 1533, the English were well ensconced as traders and financial leaders especially in Dublin. The Catholic Church and the Pope were in charge of religion but the Irish people, even those who intermarried with both the Vikings and the English, maintained certain differences and an individualism recalled in their poetry, songs, tales and monuments. 

The book ends with a revolt against the English, rather a cliff hanger. There is a volume two in The Dublin Saga, entitled The Rebels of Ireland, which will take me to 1914. Since Yeats was born in 1865, I should be in better shape to understand his life and times.

Saturday, November 07, 2020



Another month on Zoom but what a line-up my groups have, all so in tune with the times. Also instead of wringing our hands, we can celebrate as we discuss the outcome of the election and truly feel that all our reading and study can make us better citizens and agents for positive change. Does anyone else feel you have been holding your breath for 5 years and can now take a deep breath while preparing to face whatever comes next?

One Book At A Time:

Carol's Group:

Bookie Babes:

Tiny Book Club:

Yes, two groups chose books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who I trust is jumping for joy from the afterlife. Plus we have one book about science vs faith and one about the plague.

Have you read or discussed any of these books? What are your groups discussing in November?

Wednesday, November 04, 2020


How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, 380 pp

 I have wanted to read this book ever since it was published. Now, thanks to The Tiny Book Club, I have. Because I had read with great pleasure Chee's 2016 novel, The Queen of the Night, I knew he was a wonderful writer. Now I know how he became one.

In a series of autobiographical essays, collected and revised, he tells a great deal of his life story, including his family background, his education, his writing teachers and his first forays into publishing. These essays just sing with story and humor and emotion. 

For me, both the boon and the conundrum coming from my reading the book, were how it caused me to examine my own approach to writing. I won't go into all the soul searching and changes Mr Chee put me through, because it was personal in a way I could only try to convey to my reading group members, one a published poet and the other a highly educated reader.

If you are a writer at any stage of becoming or growth, I highly recommend the book, not so much for learning the craft or the business of writing but for how to BE a writer. It is one of the best I have read and I have read plenty.

Monday, November 02, 2020


I was not a very prolific blogger in October but I was a versatile reader. Everything from family sagas to cyberpunk to short stories to gothic to historical to biography. Short quick reads to lengthy tomes. I read nine books and have not reviewed one of them yet here, though I have several reviews written and they may come at you fast enough to divert you while the votes get counted.

Stats: 9 books read. 8 fiction. 6 written by women. 1 thriller. 1 mystery. 1 short story collection. 1 historical novel. 1 biography.

Countries visited: United States, Austria, Vietnam, Japan.

Authors New To Me: Shirley Grau, Asha Lemmie, JD Zahniser, Jean Kyoung Frazier

Favorites: The Sympathizer, Bellefleur.

Have you read any of these? What were your favorite reads in October?