Sunday, July 29, 2018

Rosalie Lightning

Tom Hart's story of his 2 year old  daughter Rosalie's death is memorialized in his graphic novel Rosalie Lightning.

He talks about the things she loved, her favorite sayings and activities.  He also goes into great detail describing the grieving process he and his wife shared after her unexpected death just days before her 2nd birthday.  All of his best memories became nightmares after she was gone.  He asks the question "what do you do after your child dies?"

This is a sorrowful book. Anyone who has suffered a loss will appreciate this book.

Saturday, July 28, 2018


Penelope Bagieu's graphic novel Brazen is subtitled Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. It contains 30 short biographies of women who challenged the norms of their eras and made changes to society.  As a feminist, I could not help but love this book.

With the exception of Wu Zetian, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, Hedy Lamarr and Mae Jamison I had not heard of any of  these women. One in particular surprised me. Agnodice was a female gynecologist in the B. C. era. I didn't know there were gynecologists back then let alone women gynecologists.  She had to masquerade as a man to practice because prior women gynecologists were accused of performing abortions and women were then outlawed from working in that profession. Some things never change do they?

Be prepared to be inspired to dream big and learn how to persevere to reach those dreams of you read Brazen. I recommend this book as a must read for all girls for this reason.  Us older gals like myself could use a good dose of inspiration to either keep us on track or be inspired to find another path as a few of the rebel ladies did.

The artwork is done in a traditional comic book page layout using primarily colored layouts but occasionally black and white drawings. What strikes me about the drawings is how well the author captures women's emotions on their faces.  When a rebel lady gets treated badly or gets bad news, the author has drawn the perfect expression on her face.

Highly, highly recommended!

Public Library Haul

I just came home from the Chicago Public Library with 9 books which is all my briefcase would hold.  There were 5 additional graphic novels concerning the Jews and the Holocaust in a special display area that I wanted to check out but there was no room for them and I probably couldn't carry them all home on the bus anyway.

So, what did I get? I got one cozy mystery: Laura Childs' "Plum Tea Crazy." I also got 3 graphic novels: "Brazen," "Rosalie Lightning" and "Zahra's Paradise." There is one art book in the bunch by Kaffe Fassett who designs quilt fabric and textile patterns. A newly published religious book on being a disabled Christian by Shane Clifton titled "Crippled Grace" caught my eye as I, too, am a disabled Christian. Dan Brown's new mystery "Origin" and a historical fiction novel titled "The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry was checked out.  Finally, Ken Follett's latest novel "A Column of Fire" was also checked out.

I have 3 weeks to read all of these books and do not know how I will ever have the time. I felt compelled to bring them home with me just the same.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Journalist Joe Sacco wrote Palestine in 1991 and 1992 as a 9 issue comic book series.  He wrote it after spending two months in the Occupied Territories and it is about the first intifada against the Israeli occupation which he says in the Foreward was running out of steam at the time of his visit. The edition that I have read is the 2015 Fantagraphics Books edition. The original comic book series won the 1996 American Book Award.

Sacco interviewed many Palestinian families but heard the same stories over and over. People were run out of their homes by Israeli policemen or soldiers, were arrested and jailed for offenses that they did not commit, lived in squalor, were not allowed to work, and had their businesses razed among other things. That said, he did present their hatred of Jews. The book opened with a discussion he had with a Palestinian about Jewish American tourist Leon Klinghoffer being thrown over the ledge of a cruise ship in his wheelchair by the PLO. The Palestinian only cared about the international news coverage that he felt the Jews were getting over the murder.

The artwork is a little different from what I am accustomed to seeing.  The author used black line drawings and text in full page and double page spreads as well as an occasional traditional comic book page layout.

Had I read this when he wrote it, it would have been newsworthy for me.  However, I have heard these stories from several different news sources and have read one or two books on the Palestinian/Israeli issue. I am aware that Sacco's book was groundbreaking for it's time, particularly for a graphic novel and therein lies it's value.

The Photographer

The Photographer, Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders is a reportage comic written by Didier Lefevre. In July, 1986 he traveled to Afghanistan with the French Doctors Without Borders during the height of the Soviet war to photograph their mission. The artwork of Emmanuel Guibert also helps to tell the story of their 3 months in Afghanistan. The book was published in three sections in France between 2003 and 2006. It was translated into English by Alexis Siegel who also wrote the Introduction and was published in English in 2009.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section is the month long trek to the mission location. The second section deals with the provision of medical treatment to the Afghans and the third section is the month long walk out of the country.

The graphic novel begins with the photographer leaving France for Pakistan where he meets up with other members of the mission and helps them prepare to enter Afghanistan. The first glimpse of local flavor is here.  The MSF (French name of Doctors Without Borders) packs up their supplies in boxes so that there is no room inside due to the battering that the boxes will go through during the expedition through the mountains to their post in Badakhshan. I was quite surprised to discover that the contents of a pack of pills could be crushed to a fine powder if they were to shift within the boxes. The boxes then must be covered in waterproof tarp in case they fall into a river. Negotiations over the purchase of animals for the expedition take place, where else, in a refugee camp.

The medical mission itself was pretty straightforward. Most of the harrowing stories dealt with how the group got into Afghanistan and how they got out.
The book ended with an update on what each member of the mission is currently doing with their life.

The artwork is colored in the browns of the region. While some of the drawings are detailed, many are not. They were drawn first in a black outline and later colored in by Frederic Lemercier. The photographs are all in black and white. A few of them are out of focus and I cannot understand why they were used in the book. Most of the photos are dark and I am not sure why.  Lefevre had good cameras with him. I wonder if the brown terrain made everything dark. However, in some places he said he was in beautiful terrain and the photos were still dark. His photos of the wounded and the surgeries were very clear. The comic print style of putting a page together is used regardless of whether there are photographs on the page, drawings or a combination of the two.

The story told here is an important one. It not only is an MSF story and an Afghanistan story, but a story of how the American war on terror began. The Introduction discusses the people involved in Afghanistan at the time of this mission who were also involved in the September 11 attacks in the U. S. The role of the CIA in Afghanistan is also discussed.

I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


Elias Kaminsky traveled to Havana, Cuba in search of the story how his family's Rembrandt painting of Jesus came to be auctioned off in London 70 years after his grandfather Daniel landed in Havana in the late 1930s. Daniel Kaminsky, a Polish Jew, was sent ahead of his family to an uncle, Joseph Kaminsky, who was already living in Havana with the expectation that his parents and younger sister Judith would follow in a matter of weeks. 

Their ship, the Saint Louis, did arrive in Havana in 1939, but none of the 937 passengers were allowed to disembark and after a week of political wrangling they were sent back to Holland where the ship had originally set sail. However, while the ship was in Havana harbor Joseph hired a small boat to get near the Saint Louis in order to speak with his brother Isaiah Kaminsky. His brother mentioned that he had the painting and that he was going to be able to sell it so that the family could pay people off in order to exit the ship. Upon their arrival back in Holland they were placed in a refugee camp and later they were exterminated at Auschwitz. 

Joseph Kaminsky was a religious, Orthodox Jew but Daniel decided on the day that the St. Louis set sail from Havana with his family on board that he would no longer be Jewish.  He grew up in Cuba and considered himself to be Cuban instead of Jewish.  Daniel married a Catholic woman named Marta, even converting to Roman Catholicism only so that he could marry in the Catholic church as his non-practicing girlfriend wished, and they later emigrated to the U.S. and lived in Miami Beach where their son Elias was born.  Marta converted to Judaism while in Miami so when Elias was asked in the story whether he is Jewish he says yes, because his mother was Jewish.  However, Elias was not religious. 

The story followed Elias' search for his parents' story as well as the painting's story. He enlisted the help of former Havana police detective Mario Conde to help him in his search. The author alternated chapters between Elias' time and Daniel's time.

I had read Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold a few years ago and thought it was just OK. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try another book of his but the back cover blurb convinced me to buy this novel as the history of the Saint Louis ship in Havana harbor in 1939 is another one of the heart wrenching stories of the Holocaust.

You could not help but feel great emotion for the main characters, Joseph, Daniel and Elias Kaminsky. They all suffered from the one act of the Kaminsky family's death in Auschwitz. All were heretics in some form with Daniel becoming one by trying to deny his faith and Joseph breaking a commandment. A big one. The Sephardic Jew who posed for the portrait in the 1600s was probably the first heretic in the novel. 

I love family sagas and that's probably one of the reasons I loved this book. Daniel's changing emotions toward his faith tradition was compelling and the reader was able to get inside his head as he grappled with personal decisions when Israel became a nation and when he converted to Catholicism so Marta could have the extravagant wedding she always wanted. 

While the subject matter of the story is serious and the author wrote much emotion into this story, it still flowed effortlessly and was an easy read. If you are not familiar with the St. Louis incident in Holocaust history, you will find the book informative. At 528 pages it's a chunkster but I guarantee that you will love it. I certainly did.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark is Cleo Coyle's 17th coffeehouse mystery.  It is classified as a cozy mystery series but it is a modern cozy mystery as there are hints about sex and a bit more information about the violent demise of the deceased. I presume this is due to the author being a husband and wife duo: Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini.

Shot in the Dark opens with the sound of a gun going off at the Village Blend, where couples who met on an online dating site Cinder are meeting in person. A woman who was dumped by a man after a one night stand is holding a gun at him and taunting him to stop him from abusing other women. Clare Cosi, co-owner of the Blend with her ex Matt Allegro, calls the police and the woman is arrested before anyone gets hurt. Later that night while Clare is picking up her former mother-in-law from a bad date, she sees a body floating in a river. The body turns out to be a former Cinder employee who is working on starting a fitness app.  Phone videos of the event at the Blend go viral and business for both the Blend and Cinder slumps. Clare decides to lure back who she believes the murderer is by hosting an event with Cinder at the Blend but only after setting up her own fake Cinder profile to attract his attention.

Online dating apps form the background for the story.  If you are unfamiliar with them as I am you will learn how they function as well as how they affect people emotionally. I now know how to set up a fake name with a prepaid credit card and its always a good idea to register under both sexes to see what comments are being made about you. Always read the terms and conditions to be sure the app employees are not paid to read or write comments. I thought this was an interesting topic for the authors to address. I  haven't read any other authors who have used this topic and they may be the first to write about it.

A subplot with the latest designer street drug Styx is intertwined with the murder to include Mike Quinn. Quinn is now Clare's fiance and is a police detective with the NYPD.  He has been a character in the series from the beginning.

As usual with this series there is alot of coffeehouse and coffee bean lore that you will learn and there are recipes at the end of the story for some of the drinks and pastries mentioned in the book.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a modern cozy with a hint of sex and some violent descriptions of the deceased. I prefer this type of cozy.  It is more realistic for me.  The traditional cozies, which I used to love, are no longer satisfying for me. I am now only reading 3 of my usual cozy authors, Cleo Coyle, Laura Childs, and Susan Wittig Albert.

Shot in the Dark is a great addition to the series. The characters are funny as hell in this one, particularly the younger ones who staff the Village Blend and advise Clare about online dating. Also, Clare's ex-husband's unsuccessful attempts to get a date through Cinder are pretty funny since he has been known throughout the series to attract woman. Even her 80 something mother-in-law is using an online dating app but one only for those over 65. This seems out of character for both of them but the problems they run into are just plain funny.

I highly recommend this book. If you haven't read any of the earlier books in the series, you should not have any problems following the story. The authors do a good job a writing in the backstory with as little words as possible so that it doesn't detract from the current book.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Romanov Empress

I received an advanced review copy of The Romanov Empress through the Early Reviewer's Program at Librarything.  I have read a few of  C. W. Gortner's prior novels and loved them so I was thrilled to get a copy of this book which will be published on July 10, 2018.

The novel covers the life of Maria Feodorovna, the wife of Tsar Alexander III, beginning at age 12 when her sister married the heir to the British throne to age 80 when she died. She began her life as Dagmar, a minor member of the royal family of Denmark. When the Danish King died childless, Dagmar's father ascended the throne and she became a royal princess.

When Dagmar married the Russian heir she knew little about Russia or politics.  She even had to change her Lutheran religion to the Russian Orthodox faith and her name to an orthodox name. While at first she reveled in the newness of luxuries that she never had growing up, she began to learn how to rule.  She used service in the Red Cross as a way to endear herself to the Russian people and attended every court party that was held, which endeared her to the Russian aristocracy.  Observation was her key to success.  She watched how her father-in-law, and later her husband, used power to their advantage.

When it came time for Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna's heir Nicholas to marry they had made a list of prospects for him to consider.  However, he had already fallen in love with one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, Alexandra.  She was deemed unsuitable because she was unsocial. I found this part of the book fascinating because I have never read anything about Alexandra being an unsuitable royal bride. As the author continues Maria's story he is also telling Nicholas and Alexandra's story and shows how their ending was due to Alexandra's personality defect. Sorry for the spoiler but there is much more in the book about how her personality changed Nicholas early in their marriage which begs the question: would he have been a different ruler with a different wife.

When Maria's husband died after only 13 years as Tsar, the now Dowager Empress was an expert in Russian politics. However, her son Nicholas II would never listen to her advice.  He preferred to listen to his wife Alexandra and their mystic Rasputin. To not do so would invite a tantrum from Alexandra so Nicholas almost always gave in.  When he didn't give in, Alexandra viewed Maria as her competition.  Maria only sought to bolster her son's power by imparting her wisdom but Nicholas consistently ignored it.  When the Bolsheviks came to power, Nicholas easily caved to their demands, ignoring again his mother's advice. He even ignored her suggestion to negotiate the family's safe removal from Russia because his wife did not want the children moved as they had the measles.

Dagmar of Denmark grew up to be a politically astute and powerful woman, known to history as Maria Feodorovna. The only time her political instincts were wrong was when it was time to admit Nicholas and the family were dead and the Romanov Dynasty was over. Some say she knew it but being an Empress she was never going to publicly admit it. When she died in her home in Denmark at age 80, 4 of her 6 children had preceded her in death.

The Romanov Empress was a fascinating novel. I believe that since Alexandra did not fulfill her public duties as Empress, this book could be titled The Last Romanov Empress.  Maria did her job well. While Maria's husband died at the novel's halfway mark much of what we learn about Maria has to do with her relationships with her children, especially Nicholas and his dysfunctional wife. Much of what I learned through Maria's life is new history for me.

In the beginning of the novel Maria is presented as a typical girl. However, when the book opened her sister Alix is being betrothed to the Prince of Wales.  Dagmar/Maria complained at the time that Alix accepted the arranged marriage without question. She believed the proposal should have been declined because Alix did not love or even know the Prince of Wales.  Dagmar/Maria was considered to be rebellious and adventurous.  She didn't fit in.  Given the opportunities available to her as the wife of the Russian heir she began to blossom. I think she was a born ruler and would have made a fine king, tsar, emperor, etc...on her own.

Highly recommended!