Mary Doria Russell’s The Women of Copper Country

The very first word that occurred to me when I began reading Ms. Russell’s book was “solid”, and then, I swear, there was a sense of relief.  This book is solid, and this is not faint praise.  I knew I could count on it, lean into it, walk around in its rooms and settings and not trip or fall through a weak spot.  Hosanna!

Set in the copper mining country of upper Michigan, the story is a harsh one, based on events arising out of the labor movement of the early Twentieth Century, and in particular the Michigan copper mines strike of 1913 and the Italian Hall disaster.  Characters are, for the most part, actual persons or composites.  There is Anna Klobuchar Clements, the tall woman, wife of a miner, America’s Joan of Arc, who inspired and led a wildcat strike of nearly a year’s duration, protesting low pay, long hours, and dangerous conditions for the miners.  With Anna as its primary figure, the book focuses on the women in the movement, the women behind the miners, their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.  These women lived with horror and loss on a near weekly basis – crippling, maiming, work-ending injury and death in the mines.  Not if, but when.

Strong material for sure, and with her deft and artistic hand, Ms. Russell knows just what to make of it. Good material and diligent research, skillful plotting and narrative, fully realized characterizations, sure sense of time and place.  It’s all there.  For, you see, Ms. Russell is not only an artist, she knows her craft, and it is craftsmanship that makes this the good book that it is; good and, yes, solid.  A book you are grateful for, that you can count on.  Lean into it.  It will hold.

You’ll have to wait until August 6 for The Women of Copper Country to hit bookstores.  But why wait when you can pre-order this gem? Click here to support your local indie bookstore or here to pre-order from Amazon.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Hans Fallada’s Nightmare in Berlin

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Written and set in Germany just after the end of WWII and the fall of the Nazi regime, this novel is not a pleasant read.  An ambitious country and a proud people drank the Kool-Aid for twelve years, and now lie in ruin.  The German people are almost universally held in contempt; any Berlin building with windows intact is a miracle; conquering armies (Russia, in this instance) are feared.  Conflicts arise between those who supported Hitler and those who did not, and even some of the latter are beginning to view his regime as a time of plenty and, perhaps, to wish for its return.  Understandably in distress, characters show their baser sides, and most are quite dislikeable.

Though this novel is widely considered autobiographical, Hans Fallada (pen name of author Rudolf Ditzen) denied this.  However, his central actor, Dr. Doll, is a German author of note, and most of his story here does seem to parallel that of Fallada, who has been compared to Mann and Hesse.   As Germany struggles with the aftermath of all-out war, Dr. Doll struggles with financial ruin, addiction, frequent hospitalizations, a difficult, much younger wife (also an addict) and the contempt of his neighbors, and, even though Dr. Doll has hopeful moments, you somehow know that he is not convinced.

Yes, this resurrected novel is dark, dark and challenging, but it is important for its contemporaneous look at Germany after the war, for its probing insight into human honesty and deceit, and for the artistry of the work.  Fallada/Ditzen wrote only one more work, Alone in Berlin, before he died in 1947, but Dr. Doll and a fallen Berlin will return to you time after time.

Click here to order Nightmare in Berlin from Amazon.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Scribe US via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher and Edelweiss+ for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

John Burnham Schwartz’s The Red Daughter

I doubt the name Svetlana Alliluyeva means anything to most of us today, but Joseph Stalin’s daughter was a political hot potato when she defected from Mother Russia during the Cold War.  Whether you know of her, and regardless of your knowledge of the Cold War and Russian history, you will tear through this novelization of Svetlana’s life.  Mr. Schwartz writes of her confusing and privileged young life and provides the background to her defection, but the story is primarily that of her life after arriving in the U.S., and it is totally engrossing.

Intelligent, guarded and seemingly hard, Svetlana hides her vulnerability and her past, to the extent that she can or is allowed to; but her life as her father’s child and as an adult under the rigid control of Soviet society leaves her unprepared for Western life and choices.  She is haunted by the two nearly adult children she left behind; the U.S.S.R. tantalizes her with them, and U.S. authorities fear her children will be used to lure or harm her.  There is a brief remarriage, and a baby boy born late in Svetlana’s life.  She adores this child, hides his grandfather’s identity from him until he is a young teenager, and there are traumatic consequences.  You will swear that what you have before you is non-fiction reading as fiction, but, no.  The strength of this work is the story – fiction reading as blisteringly masterful fiction.

Available to everyone on April 30, or pre-order at Amazon.com: The Red Daughter: A Novel

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group / Random House via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Leonard Goldberg’s The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth

This third in the “Daughter of Sherlock Holmes” series was my introduction to Joanna Blalock Watson and her small family, born sleuths, all of them.  Joanna is the flesh and blood daughter of the famous detective, and her father-in-law is the ever-present Dr. Watson.  Her husband, Watson’s son, narrates, and her son Johnny promises to be his grandfather Sherlock all over again.  It’s World War I, so, as you’d expect, there are German spies, zeppelins and U-boats, encryption and experts, clandestine affairs (or not?), and a dastardly traitor.  Who?  (I figured it out; I figured it out!)  There’s even a fake funeral involving a long-dead cat.  Nice touch.

All this gives Joanna ample opportunity to dazzle with that famous deductive reasoning, but, in the Holmes tradition, there can be no rush to judgment.  She moves at a measured pace, dispensing conclusions in small, intriguing doses, and, like her father, is more than a bit condescending to those of lesser gifts……and isn’t that everybody?  While it may be something of a trudge for the modern reader, if you’re a Conan Doyle fan and don’t want to re-read him for the umpteenth time, this is well-done and as close as you can get.  Prefer your detective series in order?  Begin with The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes and follow with A Study in Treason.  This installment makes its appearance on June 11 from Minotaur Books.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel

The title?   Didn’t think it sounded too promising, you know; but I was wrong, so very, very wrong; and it was my good fortune to meet an elderly French gentleman, Claude Ballard, living out his life in a rundown Hollywood hotel.  This is not the electric hotel of the title, but it is the same hotel where, according to this novel, D.W. Griffith died.  Turns out, Mr. Ballard has a history in silent film that predates Griffith, and we go back in time to learn about the earliest days and the simplest of films, moving figures in a stream of light.   Here is a man who films his own sister’s death from tuberculosis as he tries to understand and promote this new medium.  Meet Sabine Montrose, a bold-going stage actress who transitions to film and then into exile after starring in a doomed masterpiece.  And Chip Spalding, teenage Australian daredevil, forerunner of all Hollywood stuntmen to come.  Hal Bender from Brooklyn, where he stays a step ahead of trouble eking out a living with nickel peepshows, to studio head where he struggles to stay…………

Unforgettable.  Lose yourself in layer upon rich layer and a stellar cast of characters.  Read Dominic Smith’s lovely new work, you lucky reader, you.  It is truly a find.

The Electric Hotel is not scheduled for release until June 4, 2019 so put this on your calendar.  Not to be missed!!!

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Sarah Crichton Books via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Mary Lynn Bracht’s White Chrysanthemum

Beginning in Korea during World War II, this beautiful work of fiction tells the story of two sisters born into the diving women of Jeju Island which has been under Japanese occupation since the early 1900’s.   The diving culture itself is harsh and fascinating, as is life as second class citizens under Japanese domination.   We know so little about Korean culture and history, and this good, good book is eye-opening, entertaining and well worth the read.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by PENGUIN GROUP Putnam – G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Mick Finlay’s The Murder Pit

Second installment in the Arrowood mystery series.  Set in Jack the Ripper’s era, this is a ripper of a mystery with a delightfully seedy Holmes and Watson type detective pair who resent that Holmes gets all the glory.  And characters, oh my goodness.  Packed as full as a Christmas fruitcake.  But the second in a series?  Well, of course, I had to buy the first, also titled Arrowood,  and you will, too.  Too much fun to miss.  Due in February from MIRA.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by HARLEQUIN – MIRA (U.S. and Canada) / MIRA via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.