To Review or Not to Review

I read very widely, but I'm choosy about what I review.  I want great writing + interesting and original ideas. I want to have something insightful to say about a book.  I will read traditionally published, indie and self-published.  The book just has to meet my standards.

Julius Romeros Extravaganza Part 2: The Perils of a Cliffhanger Ending

The Julius Romeros Extravaganza, Part Two: A New Adventure - Hayley Lawson-Smith, Carrie Snider

I liked Julius Romeros Extravaganza Part I by Hayley Lawson Smith very much.  It was in the top ten of the books I read for 2013, and I consider it one of the best and most original circus novels that I've ever encountered.  The second book is quite different.  Its tone is much darker.  Like Part I, I received this book for free from the author in return for an honest review. 

 

At one point in the narrative, I said to myself that this book could be very inspiring for readers who are being abused if the characters completely overcame their situation.  Unfortunately, we don't know what happens because Part 2 ends with a cliffhanger.

 

An author who decides to end a book with a cliffhanger is taking a risk.  Some readers will feel compelled to buy the next book because they need to know what happens next.  Other readers feel that cliffhangers are manipulative and that this is an overused device in series.  A certain proportion of the readers in the second category may be so annoyed by the fact that the book ended on a cliffhanger that they will never purchase a book by that author ever again.  Authors need to consider that they will be alienating a part of their audience when they end their books with a cliffhanger. 

 

I care about Abigail, the central character of this series, and I'm willing to believe that the inspiring resolution that I was looking for at the end of this novel will happen in the next book.  Yet I have to admit that I would have preferred that the plot had gone in a different direction. 

Bellman and Black: A Cautionary Tale

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield

Bellman and Black is about a man who never looked back.  He was always looking forward.  The story deals with the consequences of  dismissing the past as irrelevant.  Many readers might agree that there is no reason to concern ourselves with past events.  Saying that something is "history" means that it's over and done with.  It no longer has any significance.  "It's so yesterday."  Diane Setterfield's  latest book speaks to them.  She has written a cautionary tale.

 

 I received this book from the publisher through Net Galley and this is my belated review.  I can only plead the challenges of library school as an extenuating circumstance.

 

Protagonist William Bellman was a pillar of the  19th century English industrial revolution.  He was always more than one step ahead of everyone else.  He was remarkable at predicting future trends.  He put all his energy into his work and was committed to being better than his competitors.  Unlike some current corporations, he was decent and considerate toward his employees.  It was more important to make sure that his workers were happy than to make additional profit at their expense. He was certain that happy employees would be dedicated ones who would be loyal to the firm.  Surely William Bellman was a man who would have been widely admired and respected.  Yet he had a secret that he'd buried in the past.  He wasn't in the least bit haunted by his memories.  The past simply didn't exist for him.

 

Although I feel this book was engaging and well written, I didn't find it very original.  So I couldn't give it more than three stars.

 

For my complete review see http://maskedpersona.blogspot.com/2014/01/bellman-and-black-advantages-of-janus.html

2013 Top Reads and Blogger Blog Statistics

This is a crosspost from my Blogger blog.

 

In 2013 I unmasked and changed the name of my Blogger blog to The Unmasked Persona's Reviews.  See The Masked Persona Unmasks for my reasons. My most favorable statistic is that I had more than twice as many views in 2013 than I had in 2012.  I had this increase in views despite the fact that I posted far fewer entries than I did in this blog's first year. Why did my activity slow down? I took a year off from library school in 2012, so I had more time to read, review and blog.  In 2013 I returned to my studies.  Last year I posted an infographic, but I feel that a chattier style is more appropriate for summing up 2013.I have a great many observations to make in this post.

 

 I was delighted to find that my most viewed 2013 post was Jhumki Basu: The Science Educator Reformer Who Was Like A Nova .  I consider this an encouraging development.  I say this not just because the review deals with an inspirational and astonishing book, but because it wasn't traditionally published.  In 2012 my most viewed post was a review of a New York Times bestseller by Jodi Picoult.  It's still my most viewed post overall. Since it's the only book by an author of that magnitude that I've reviewed on this blog, this is only to be expected.  Discovering that a review of a book published by a non-profit foundation (the Jhumki Basu Foundation) is my most viewed review of the year is actually quite extraordinary.  This is yet more evidence of the paradigm shift that has taken place in publishing.  It means that the content of a book is more important than who published it. 

 

Last year I gave awards to notable books.  I'm continuing that practice this year.  So here is a list of the 2013 recipients of the Golden Mask Award.  I admit that I am very behind on my reviews.  With one exception, these are books that I am blogging about for the first time. 

 

 

Favorite Read of 2013 Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight

 
 

 

What I liked most of about this book is that Knight views Robin Hood as a legend rather than a historical personage.  As a legend, Robin Hood evolves over time.  Every period and indeed every author can have his or her own Robin Hood.  Whether there was ever a historical personage by that name who inspired the legend is unimportant to Knight and to me. 

 

 

Favorite Novel of 2013 City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

 

I purchased this book at a local independent bookstore.  Support your local bookstores! City of Lost Dreams is my favorite piece of fiction published in 2013 and I finished it on December 31st.  This also happened in 2012.  I felt that the last novel that I read in 2012, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, was the best one I read that year as well.  We'll see if the pattern holds in 2014.

 

What I liked most about City of Lost Dreams was its inventiveness.  It testifies to the power of music like M.J. Rose's book, The Memorist  Yet it also expanded my perception of music.  Another Magnus Flyte theme is the relevance of history which is always close to my heart.  This book also made excellent use of mythology.  The most central myths were those of the Eleusinian and Orphic Mysteries.  It's the second Magnus Flyte book.  I have the first one, City of Dark Magic, on my Kindle.  I hope to read it in 2014.

 

 

Favorite Indie Novel of 2013 The Company of  Shadows by Zoe Brooks                                              

 

 

My review of the previous book in this series can be found at  Love of Shadows: A Novel In Praise of the Persecuted . The protagonist is Judith, an herbalist and healer in a fictional country.  Some readers have virtually shelved these books as fantasy, but the author prefers to categorize them as magical realist.  She is most similar to Ursula LeGuin, but in this book I noticed a strong similarity to the Aspect novels  by Jeri Smith-Ready which begins with Voice of Crow . The Aspect series has been a favorite of mine for their portrayal of shamanism and their powerful support for inter-cultural co-operation.  In my review of Love of Shadows I said that it stood on its own, but I now realize that I didn't fully understand the Shadows until I read this book.  I enjoyed the gradual unveiling of Brooks' concept of the Shadows over the two books that I've read.  What I liked best about The Company of Shadows is the portrayal of magic, its connection to dreams and the unconscious, and the relationship of healers with their animal familiars.

 

Favorite Historical Fiction of 2013 Beltane by Christine Malec

 

I won this book as a member of the Historical Fictionistas group on Goodreads.  Only active members can enter Historical Fictionistas giveaways.  Beltane is a historical romance that mainly takes place in Scotland.  As such, it's part of a very popular romance sub-genre.  Unlike the most well-known examples of Scottish romance, it takes place in the 16th century during the turbulent regency of Mary of Guise, the mother of the far more famous Mary Queen of Scots. It was a period when divisions between Catholic and Protestant were beginning to dominate the political landscape as they were in neighboring England.  Lord Colin, the hero of this romance, is attempting to decide which direction would be most advantageous for him politically as the novel opens.  What stands out for me in this book is that the female protagonist is portrayed as bisexual, that she was in committed relationships with members of both sexes and that both relationships are equally important.  This is called polyamory in modern parlance.  Some readers might think that such things didn't happen in 16th century Scotland.  It seems to me that since noblewomen like Margarete weren't allowed to decide their own destinies, situations like the one described in this novel might have been more common historically than we realize.  A woman of high rank who was emotionally committed to another woman in her entourage couldn't simply pack herself off to a nunnery with her beloved without the consent of her family.  A nunnery would need a dowry and women owned nothing.  So when her family arranged a marriage for her, she would have no choice but to comply.  I loved the in-depth portrayal of the characters in this novel and their inter-relationships.  I also loved the independence of the female characters and the empathy of Owen, Lord Colin's Bard and closest friend.  It's wonderful that the current publishing environment allows for the publication of  novels like this one.

 

Favorite YA Novel of 2013 Stormwitch by Susan Vaught

 

Stormwitch was nominated for a Norton Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America.  It is an African American historical fantasy intended for young readers.  The central character is a paranormally gifted girl who was brought up in Haiti, but comes to live with her grandmother in a rather conservative small town in Mississippi in 1969.  Haitians are usually portrayed as victims in fiction, not heroes like the central character of Stormwitch. Another important aspect of this book is the revelations about the history of Dahomey which led me to read Wives of the Leopard by Edna G. Bay which is a fascinating study very relevant to the history of slavery.  It also lends insight into the institution of women warriors in Dahomey which is part of the history of the protagonist of Stormwitch.

 

Favorite Mystery of 2013 Hard Row by Margaret Maron

 

 

This Southern novel is well written, dramatically intense and full of important issues such as immigration, the rights of agricultural workers, misuse of guns and domestic violence.  I also learned why cousins can be "removed".  I'd previously thought that this whole business of removing cousins sounded rather hostile, and not something I would do to a cousin for whom I had any affection.  Actually, removal of cousins refers to generational differences.  A first cousin once removed is the child of my first cousin which is interesting information for genealogical purposes.

 

Favorite Science Fiction of 2013 Angel on the Ropes  by Jill Shultz, a novel of the circus on an alien world. I downloaded it from Net Galley and reviewed it here. I like to think that I chose quality over quantity in 2013, but you can judge that for yourself.

 

 

 HAPPY 2014!

         

On Book Abandonment

My philosophy about books that I abandon, is that I can make no judgment about the book if I abandoned it.  My policy on Goodreads was to delete the book from my shelves and I'm going to continue the same policy here.  There are numerous reasons why I abandon books.  The most frequent reason is that it's a library book, it's due soon and I've already renewed it once which is the maximum number of renewals.  There is no way that I'm going to finish the book at this time.  So I return it unfinished.  If it's really important that I read that particular book, I may check it out of the library when I have more time.  I may also forget that I was ever interested in it.

 

Yet sometimes I abandon a book because it made my blood boil.  In some cases, this could be a sign that the author is doing his or her job.  He or she is a gadfly.  I like gadflies unless they metaphorically gore my ox.  That's the thing with satire.  Everyone finds satire great fun when it pokes fun at all the things that you love to hate, but if it pokes fun at things that you value a great deal, then it's not amusing at all.  At this point people may start saying that I have no sense of humor.  I'm willing to bet that none of you laugh if someone gores your ox.  On the other hand, some people may have no ox, and therefore enjoy all satire equally. 

 

Other times, there is a really important conceptual reason that I abandoned the book.  I still feel that I shouldn't review it.  It could be that the author later justifies him or herself, and I could come to see it the author's way if I continued reading.  I  just don't have patience with some perspectives which probably says more about me than the book.  As a library student, I know that I need to value diversity and project neutrality professionally.  I would never make any judgements about what other people choose to read.  Of course, I make judgements about what I choose to read, and I feel that these judgments are more justified if I have read the entire book.

 

 

Improbable Women: Exploring Women Explorers in the Middle East

Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East) - William Woods Cotterman

Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle EastImprobable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East by William Woods Cotterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Would you believe it took me two months to write this review?

The subjects of Improbable Women by William Cotterman are women from wealthy families who were explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was an era when ladies like these were supposed to be homebodies or charitable lady bountifuls if they engaged in any activity. This unconventionality made them seem very interesting to me. I had heard of all of them, but had never read anything about them. So I appreciated the fact that the publisher Syracuse University Press made this available for download on Net Galley.

I saw a review on Goodreads which criticized Cotterman for including the ancient Queen Zenobia of Palmyra as an indulgence on the part of the author because there is no evidence included in the book that all of his explorer subjects were keenly interested in Queen Zenobia as he claimed. Freya Stark did write about Queen Zenobia in Rome on the Euphrates, but it seemed to me that Isabel Arundell Burton only went to the ruins of Queen Zenobia's Palmyra because her husband, Sir Richard Francis Burton was going and they both wanted to prove that an El-Mesrab tribe escort was unnecessary. So I thought the comment that Queen Zenobia wasn't quite relevant to this study was a fair one, but I was nevertheless delighted that she had been included because I wanted to know more about her.

Hester Stanhope, the first of these women explorers, is definitely my favorite. Her father, the Earl of Stanhope, supported the French Revolution and wanted to give up his title. He removed the coat of arms from his gates and decided to call his home Democracy Hall. I found his eccentricity delightful, but he was ironically a rather authoritarian parent. Yet Hester Stanhope's life certainly shows that she could be as eccentric as her father had been in her own way.

Gertrude Bell, another of Cotterman's subjects, had an aunt and uncle with a house in Teheran. She stayed with them and learned Farsi. She was a climber, an archaeologist and did a great deal of interesting political work, but Cotterman seemed too interested in her unhappy romances.

After reading Cotterman's study, I will want to read full scale biographies of both Hester Stanhope and Gertrude Bell. I know that there are excellent books on both women. I think that the main value of Improbable Women is to whet the interest of readers, so that they will want to find out more.

For my complete review see my October 2013 blog post " Improbable Women:Exploring Women Explorers in the Middle East" at http://www.maskedpersona.blogspot.com






View all my reviews

Notes Toward Review of Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography

Purpose:  I keep handwritten book journals with notes toward reviews.  I need a new one and haven't purchased it yet. This entry will hold notes until I purchase my new journal.

 

Quote: "archery is a means of display, not combat" 

In discussion of A Gest of Robyn Hode

 

Analysis: The bow is for competitions, but in this ballad when Robin fights it's with a sword. This is an important distinction.  In my ROS (Robin of Sherwood) fanfic that I wrote some time ago, I portray both Robin Hoods shown in the series. It's a TV series that originally aired on the BBC. Robin of Loxley was portrayed by Michael Praed.  Robert of Huntingdon was portrayed by Jason Connery. The bow is Robin of Loxley's  weapon. The sword is Robert of Huntingdon's weapon.  The distinction is one of class in my fanfic.  Robin of Loxley is a peasant.  The bow would be primarily for hunting for food which is an outlawed activity contrary to the forest laws.  He is given a sword by Herne which is sacred.  It's not his primary weapon. Robert of Huntingdon is a nobleman who I portray as fighting in tournaments before he becomes Robin Hood.  The sword is his primary weapon. The sword is considered more honorable than the bow by members of his class.  This issue is brought up in my fanfic.  Robert of Huntingdon does use the bow, but has more of an affinity toward the sword because of his upbringing.

 

Quote: "This is, the poetry reminds us, Robin enjoying his 'downfall'.  It is not, as it often will often be in the nineteenth century, a statement that life au naturel is actually much better than the harassments of ordinary urban society."  In discussion of The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington

 

Analysis: This Robin Hood makes the best of it like Shakespeare's Prospero on his island in The Tempest who has also been exiled from the halls of power.

 

Re comparison to 19th century poets--  The 19th century Romantics are in some ways precursors to the theorists who are responsible for the founding of the modern environmental movement.  There is an element of environmentalism in my fanfic interpretation of Robin of Loxley, but not in my portrayal of Robert of Huntingdon who is motivated very differently. 

 

I think that the ROS spelling "Huntingdon" emphasizes that he's a fictional character who never existed.  The really interesting thing is that David, Earl of Huntingdon, who is portrayed in ROS as Robert's father, was an actual historical personage who was the brother of the King of Scotland. I discovered this when I read The Normans of Scotland which is why I portray Robert as a Norman in my fanfic. I think it's very interesting that  this aristocratic exiled Robin Hood could be considered a member of the Scottish royal house--particularly when you consider the later historical development of Jacobitism which was an attempt to restore the Scottish House of Stuart to the English throne. I enjoy seeing historical continuities.

Non-Review Notes on Codex Born

Book Connection-- I will definitely need to read Beauty by Robin McKinley.  I've learned from Codex Born that McKinley's Beast has a library of all books printed. 

 

To Be Reviewed: Eventually.  I am really behind on my reviews due to library school.  I feel that I have to prioritize promised reviews and reviews for Net Galley over books that I checked out of the library or purchased for myself.  With promised reviews there is a commitment to an author.  With Net Galley there is an implied commitment to a publisher. I also have a book that I won through First Reads on Goodreads that is staring at me this very moment.  I can't read that during my library school semester because it's a tome.  I may get to it during the winter break.

Currently reading

Call Sign, White Lily
M.G. Crisci
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Mark Forsyth