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bookish posts reviews

Lady Byron and Her Daughters by Julia Markus

lady byronThis post is in two parts. The first part is my personal reaction to reading this book, and the second part is a rumination on history and who tells it. They bleed together; it’s true that the personal is political, but it’s equally true that the political is personal. I am thinking about history and biography because of my personal reaction, and vice versa. However, for the purposes of structuring this review, two parts it is.

****

I have an ongoing interest in women’s stories, which is only intensifying as I grow older, crabbier, and more feminist. I also have a specific interest in Ada Byron Lovelace* and read Sydney Padua’s lovely The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace last year. Then this year my librarian book club, which is the best book club, decided to read Padua’s book together. Lady Byron, Ada’s mother, is a shadowy figure throughout the book and in the middle of rereading I decided to see if there was a biography of her; there was. I put it on hold and read it in about two days straight, with lots of burning anger towards Lord Byron and tears for everyone else.

Annabella Milbanke Byron is a fascinating, complex figure, and Markus does a great job of treating her with respect while also not overlooking her flaws. Rather than either put her on a pedestal or vilify her, Markus attempts to paint a picture of a woman who was both progressive and conservative, both generous and selfish. At the same time, she uses this particular case to make some well-deserved points about who we decide is worthy of praise and remembrance.

I also just flat out cried quarts and quarts, particularly but not limited to the part of the book dealing with Ada’s final illness and death. I am getting teary THINKING about it. It seems like something out of a novel: a deathbed reconciliation between the brilliant, troubled child and the stern, loving mother. But it’s also a scene that modern readers may distrust, and Markus handles it carefully, with care for both Ada and Annabella.

Also, let me tell you how many feelings I had about this: “Lady Byron was a woman who had many close female friends, a loyal band, actually…” (SO MANY. Ladies being friends forever!) Lady Byron is presented throughout the book as a woman who cared a great deal about other women, who had complex and thorny relationships with several of them, and who spent much of her life engaging with their concerns and activities.

Fundamentally, I think, this is a biography that I loved, because it’s a biography written for readers like me. Readers who are interested in the stories we tell and who they’re about, who are interested in women’s stories. We think and talk about this a lot with regards to fiction, but it is just as important, if not more so, when we discuss biographies.

****

Several times during this book, I thought about one of my favorite lines from Hamilton: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” This is a book that is significantly about who tells your story, because Lady Byron’s story has been told largely, both during and after her life, by men. By men who assume that male geniuses must be right, and that women telling a different story must be wrong. Not only wrong. They must be discounted and discredited.

In the Foreword, Markus writes: “The good she did, however, lies interred under the barrage of Lord Byron’s brilliant poetic spite and later critics’ overwhelming devotion to male genius.” She later quotes several times from older biographies, both of Lord Byron and of Lady Byron herself, which paint her in the worst possible light, wholesale repeating outright slander from Lord Byron. Who, of course, can hardly be supposed to be in any way an objective source, and yet for some reason is considered entirely trustworthy.

But in fact, as Markus lays out in the beginning of the book, Byron was not only extremely untrustworthy and biased. He was also a terrible person, an abusive husband (mentally, emotionally, and possibly physically), and a manipulative jerk. (I am not objective on the subject of Lord Byron.) He passionately hated Annabella, especially after the end of their marriage. And yet, because he is a Great (Male) Poet, he must be right.

Oddly enough, it was Harriet Beecher Stowe who mounted one of the earliest and most strident defenses of Lady Byron. Stowe points out that “The world may finally forgive the man of genius anything; but for a woman there is no mercy and no redemption.” (Dorothy Sayers would echo this almost a century later: “Women geniuses don’t get coddled…so they learn not to expect it.” Which is all too apt when we consider, for instance, Ada Byron Lovelace herself.) For her pains, Stowe’s reputation was torn to shreds.

This biography itself is not objective, but it is also not meant to be. It is meant to be a revelation and defense of Lady Byron, asking us to revisit the old assumptions and look at the evidence with fresh eyes, and also an excoriation of the older biographers who were so little able to see past those assumptions. It is partisan, but it is also open about being partisan, rather than pretending to being unbiased. If it’s a choice between Markus and, say, Malcolm Elwin, I know who I would pick.

****

Markus ends with a short paean to Lady Byron, which I don’t think I could possibly top: “Lady Byron took her own advice. She made no attempt to censure records and never attempted to shape her life in order to find favor with the world. She was herself. She remained herself.” I am very glad that this biography exists, and that it shines a light on a woman who was complex, brilliant, flawed, and utterly human.

* not in actual fact her name, but the one by which she’s most recognized

Book source: public library

Book information: 2015, W.W. Norton & Company; adult biography

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bookish posts monthly book list

July 2016 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
False Hearts by Laura Lam

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Other books

Little White Lies by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie: I’ve been going back and forth about this one, and at a certain level I think I’m just not quite able to say from my own background whether it successfully does what it’s setting out to do. I’m glad to see exciting, timely YA contemporary fiction about a Black teen, but here it seems undercut a bit by the other point-of-character, who’s a middle-aged white man. It just–seems like a weird contrast and I’m not sure how it sits with me. If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Far From Fair by Elana K Arnold: Middle-grade contemporary. It’s a quiet look at family dynamics and end-of-life issues. While I can’t say my personal views align with the characters’ at all, I do think it could be a valuable book for the right reader. Overall, I thought Odette was really well drawn; as an adult reader I got a little impatient with her at points, but I suspect the target audience won’t.

Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: This is a look, not so much at the history of the space program, as at the history of the stuff needed to go into space. By and large, Roach has an easy breezy, readable style that is quite engaging. However, occasionally it’s a little at odds with her subject. And in one place I noticed a transition that came across as really, really racist (PRO TIP: don’t talk about how black women are ideally suited to being astronauts and then switch to black bears. Just don’t. This is why we need more diversity in publishing across the board.)

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks: Sometimes you just really need to reread a favorite, delightful book. This basically always means rereading Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, because it’s pretty much the definition of delightful.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger: YA scifi, a quietish book with some strong worldbuilding and characters. I can’t say much about the plot, because uncovering what happens is part of the fun, but I really liked it. I suspect that for the right readers it could be really great, and I hope it finds them.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Plamer: reviewed here
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey: reviewed here
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
Lady Byron and Her Daughters by Julia Markus: (review coming soon)
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: (review coming soon)
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana: (review coming soon)

TV and movies
Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters, go see Ghostbusters. It’s so fun and lovely and yes.

I also have been watching The Great British Bake Off because it is on our TV screens once again! You should be able to watch it on PBS.org right now.

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bookish posts reviews

Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorehead

dancing to the precipiceI read Moorehead’s Village of Secrets last year and liked it, so when I was looking for some good non-fiction recently, I decided to try another of her books. Dancing to the Precipice is also about French history,, but in this case it’s about Lucie de la Tour du Pin, an 18th and 19th century memoirist. Lucie was there for, or connected to, apparently everything that happened in France, or the UK, or the US during this period.

I mean–she and her husband escaped the Revolution (both of their fathers were executed during the Terror) and promptly ended up in the US living with General Philip Schuyler. Yes. That General Philip Schuyler. They knew the Hamiltons well during their stay in the US. Lucie was also a lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette and knew Wellington when they were young. They were in Brussels during Waterloo, and Lucie’s half sister lived with her family on both Elba and St. Helena during Napoleon’s exiles.

All of this connectedness gives us a personal view into these huge international events. Lucie’s memoir has apparently been a staple of scholarship for ages, but Moorehead fills in the gaps of the memoir with details from her letters and background from other characters. We see everything quite clearly from Lucie’s point of view, but we also are given the context. It makes for some interesting reading.

However, I do have to say that the treatment of racial, and to a certain extent class, issues is not good. Moorehead is British and may not grasp some of the problems with the representation of Indians in US culture. But the section when Lucie and family are in New York was particularly grating–as is the French print of Lucie interacting with a noble savage, reproduced for us. In general, I felt that Moorehead tended to repeat 18th century prejudices without the counterbalance of commentary. If she can point out when Lucie is being snobbish, she can also point out that the Hottentot Venus is not neutral or okay.

So, enjoyment of this book probably depends on the degree to which one can accept the fact that its subject was an 18th century French aristocrat–granted one with liberal, reform tendencies. I did find it a fascinating window into the time and place, while also remembering that the perspective was a limited one. If nothing else, Moorehead gives a sense of the women–both Lucie and others–who made up part of the landscape of that time and place; a vivid, complex, argumentative group, who certainly were not the prim dolls we tend to make of women from the past.

In short, while far from perfect, Dancing to the Precipice is also engaging and thoughtful, and I’m glad to have read it.

Book source: public library

Book information: 2009, HarperCollins; adult non-fiction

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2015 Favorites: non-fiction

ravensbruck village of secrets call the midwife how to be a victorian The Bletchley Girls

Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm: Pretty much without a doubt, my favorite non-fiction book of the year was Sarah Helm’s Ravensbrück. It’s rare for me to feel emotional about non-fiction, but in this case I was totally invested, to the point of tears. Helm’s account of the women in the Ravensbrück camp is astoundingly detailed, but never loses sight of the fact that she is talking about real people. By both providing personal accounts and giving them context, she allows both immediacy and understanding of complexities. (When this person was speaking, and to whom, for instance.) It’s a truly impressive book, but even more so, it bears witness to the women who wanted nothing more than to tell the world what happened there.

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman: There are a number of books about daily life in the Victorian era, but Goodman is able to give her personal experiences with various daily chores and routines. Because of this, and her thoughtful understanding of the Victorian worldview and life, it stands pretty far above any similar book I’ve ever read. She is clear about where the Victorian methods make sense and where they were disastrous. All in all, I felt this did a good job of neither sentimentalizing nor condemning, but attempting to make sense of Victorian daily life.

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead: I found Moorehead’s examination of the very complex history of the Vivarais Plateau during World War II to be fascinating on several levels. First, she takes a great look at the myths and stories we tell about it, and where they come from. Second, she delves into the actual records and eyewitness accounts with great scholarship. In the end, what she presents is a much richer, more human, and in a way more understandable account of the village of Le Chambon and the other villages on the Plateau. I didn’t see it as denigrating; in fact, it seemed to honor the actual character of the people involved. And I’m still thinking about the way history twists into myth.

The Bletchley Girls by Tessa Dunlop: This fits nicely into the themes I’ve been talking about already in this post. Dunlop looks at the young women (some of them really girls) who worked at, or in connection with, the Bletchley Park project. As Dunlop weaves their stories together, it becomes clear that the idea of the idealistic and brilliant code breakers is over-done; that many of the girls who worked there found their work drudgery; and that some of them did not feel that it changed their lives significantly. On the other hand, for others, it opened a new sense of possibilities, or the chance to develop life-long friendships.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth: I’ve loved this show a lot, so I thought I should read Worth’s original memoir. It’s interesting to encounter the originals of stories I already knew–and it reinforced my sense that the writers had done an excellent job of crafting a narrative that hews pretty close to Worth’s own words but has a structure that works for TV. While I do like the tv show more as a narrative, I also appreciated Worth’s perspective and experiences.

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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

September 2015 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand
Hissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Höst
Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

Other books
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: This book is on the quiet side, with lots of reflections on grief, family, love, and growing up. But it also has some really funny moments! There’s lots to like here, and I’ll definitely be looking out for Reynolds’s books in the future.

Ms. Marvel: Crushed: AHHH MS. MARVEL, YES! I am always so surprised by just how much I love this story–it keeps getting better. The arc on this one was really great and I just want mooooore.

Lord Peter and Little Kerstin by Ian Crumpstey: A review copy offered by the translator of Scandinavian folk songs/stories. It was interesting to note that sometimes I was able to predict where the story was going and other times it surprised me. I really enjoyed the language chosen for this translation.

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie: Audiobook. Not my favorite Miss Marple, but it does introduce the idea of her as a nemesis.

Baba Yaga’s Apprentice by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll: I’m fascinated by the Baba Yaga story, and I loved Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods. So I thought this one might be good and I ended up really liking it. It’s set in the modern day, but I liked the way McCoola’s story and Carroll’s art interact.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson: I had a mixed reaction to this one, but I’m not sure entirely why, and I’m not sure I can tease it out in the time and space I have here.

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers: I read this one but didn’t end up writing a post about it. Partly this is because of the DLS books I just re-read, it’s the only one that’s really focused on the mystery, with Peter and Harriet’s relationship second. Also, it’s just vaguely grimy and depressing. Murder Must Advertise is sad; HHC is just unsatisfying.

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault: I enjoyed this first book about Alexander the Great, but also I became very anxious about MWT’s Gen because of parallels. Arrghhhhh. Anyway, on its own merits this is immersive & beautiful.

Outskirter’s Secret by Rosemary Kirstein: Second in the Steerswoman series. This one starts off a little slowly and ends with an emotional gut-punch. Ow. Also, I really appreciate that Kirstein pays attention to the physicality of her world, and gives a sense of the time it takes to do things/move through the land.

A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl: Great readalike for last year’s Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place! It had something of the same school story + irreverent vibe. I wasn’t in love with the first book, but I really enjoyed this one–maybe because it was less an Austen retelling and more vaguely Austen-esque.

Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander: This is unusual in historical mysteries that I’ve read in that the detective is a real historical figure. Sir John Fielding was a magistrate and social reformer. The book itself is told as reminiscences of a fictional servant boy. I’ll probably try reading at least the next book.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth: Being a big fan of the TV show, I wanted to try Worth’s memoirs. It was interesting to track the places where it was exactly the same and the places where changes had been made. In general, I appreciated the book, but I didn’t love it as much as I did the show itself.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones: I absolutely loved this one, which is told via letters to and from Sophie. It’s funny, and heartfelt, and I found it truly enjoyable and charming.

Cuckoo’s Egg by C.J. Cherryh

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner: review coming closer to the release!

Other posts
Made and Making
Links 9-3-15
Links 9-16-15
Links 9-29-15
Series I need to finish
Mystery books I want to read
Fall TBR
Favorite middle grade mysteries

TV and movies
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!!!
Doctor Who
Call the Midwife

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: non-fiction and YA

hissing cousinsHissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer: I picked up this double biography of Eleanor & Alice Roosevelt because, I mean, look at that tile! How could I not? It turned out to be (as far as I could judge) a well-researched and well-written look at the complex intertwining lives of these two cousins. Peyser & Dwyer examine the ways in which each woman lived up to her reputation, as well as the ways in which she didn’t. They also look at the long-standing feud between them, and the ways in which this both was and wasn’t reflected in their actual relationship. Definitely recommended for people interested in early 20th c. American history, or women’s history, or complicated family dynamics. My only quibble is that the authors seem reluctant to talk about the wider social ramifications of, say, Theodore Roosevelt and his beliefs and policies in favor of a mostly-positive personal portrait.

The Dthe disenchantmentsisenchantments by Nina LaCour: I picked this one up after reading and loving LaCour’s more recent Everything Leads to You. The Disenchantments has the quirky, artsy, adventure/quest that I enjoyed in ELtY, but for me it lacked some of the depth of character that I saw in that book. Then again, it’s also true that this book falls into the pattern of a boy interacting with an unattainable, brilliant, and unknowable girl. It’s well written, and yet the pattern itself annoys me; if anything, I wanted this story from Bev’s point of view. Still, LaCour’s prose is smoothly enjoyable and the story as a whole does a nice job of looking at that transition from high school to college, as well as the realization that the adults in your life are actually human and complex.

devil you knowThe Devil You Know by Trish Doller: The Devil You Know has been very highly praised by several people I trust, and I really liked Doller’s previous books. This one is part coming-of-age, part romance, and part mystery. I had two somewhat different reactions to it. First, like Dessen’s Saint Anything, I thought Doller did a great job of writing an extremely readable book, which also takes on big issues. I really admired the way she wrote this situation where things slowly start to unravel. And the fact that Cadie is never judged or shamed for the choices she makes also was great. On the other hand, I figured out the mystery really quickly. That said, this is 1) a book written for teens and not for mystery-obsessed adults (me) and 2) not the reason I was reading this book and therefore wasn’t as much of a problem as it might have been. So despite that fact, I would definitely recommend this one if you want that combination of big topics and readability

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bookish posts reviews

Women at war: Noah’s Ark and The Bletchley Girls

Once again, I’ve managed to accidentally read two books in a row that contrast nicely with each other. Both of these books deal in some way with women during WWII. The first is Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s memoir of her activities as one of the leaders of the Alliance circuit of the French Resistance. The second is Tessa Dunlop’s look at different women’s activities and experiences while working at or around Bletchley Park.

Fourcade’s memoir is intensely personal, and filtered through her own opinions and reminiscences about the Resistance and the people who made it up. The English version, called Noah’s Ark, is a translation and abridgement of the French original, which made me wish I read French well enough to try that. (I don’t at all.) I was interested in the various figures that Fourcade shows us, although I almost wished that I had read an overall history of the Resistance first. I felt I was missing various contexts and that we were really getting her opinion about people and events.

While Fourcade doesn’t focus a great deal of attention on this, she does talk a bit about the fact that as a fairly young woman (I believe in her mid thirties) she stepped into running a massive organization, in the middle of a war. She had to learn to command the respect of those who were more directly risking their lives. And it carried a great cost for her personally, as she ended up apart from her family and unsure of whether she would ever see them again.

For me, perhaps the most emotional part of the book came when she described the fate of Leon Faye, one of the main agents for the Alliance circuit, who attempted to escape from the Gestapo headquarters in Paris with Noor Inayat Khan. I had heard this story before, but had been pretty much entirely focused on Noor’s part in it. So it was quite unexpected to find her suddenly here.

At any rate, this was a fascinating, heartbreaking, informative book, but it was most certainly a memoir, recounting a particular person’s viewpoint and opinions. I would like to find a good history of the Resistance to compare it with.

The Bletchley GirlsTessa Dunlop’s The Bletchley Girls is a little different in scope and approach. She made a point of finding and interviewing the Bletchley girls who are still alive (or were at the time of the writing) rather than relying on published histories. She weaves together the reminiscences of fourteen of the young women who worked at Bletchley Park. The overall effect gives the overview of women’s roles at BP a personal touch.

I suppose that, like most people, I have a fairly glamorous–or at least, vaguely exciting–image of Bletchley Park. And perhaps if one of the women who worked most closely with Dilly Knox or Turing were alive to give her testimony, that would be more present. But the accounts Dunlop collects show that for many of these young women, the strict secrecy and compartmentalization of the Park gave their work a monotonous flavor. Most of them didn’t really know until after the war how vital their particular work was.

While in a certain way this is slightly disappointing, it also helps dispel some of the mythos that surrounds Bletchley Park. Some of them loved it, and others were bored in the moment but appreciated the overall work. Some simply hated it. But interestingly, for many of them their work at BP changed the course of their lives. Not necessarily in dramatic ways, but by giving them opportunities, by introducing women who became life-long friends.

Because both of these books are primarily centered around personal accounts and memories, neither is entirely focused on the overall role of women in the war (Dunlop is more so). However, they both of course provide a picture of some of the many reasons women did enter the war, and how they made their way.

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Reflections on Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm

ravensbruckI first encountered Ravensbruck at age 10, when I read The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom’s wartime memoir, for school. Although Corrie and her sister Betsie were not imprisoned in Ravensbrück for very long, the book made an instant and indelible impression on me; it’s partly or mostly responsible for the fact that I started to read everything I could about World War II.

A few years later, I read a biography of Mother Maria Skobtsova, the Russian Orthodox nun and French Resistance member who died in Ravensbrück in 1945. But after this, it really wasn’t until I read Elizabeth Wein’s wonderful Rose Under Fire that I heard about Ravensbrück again. It was the first time I discovered the story of the Polish Rabbits–the Lublin special transport who were experimented on in the camp–and it also gave me a sense that there were many more stories to be told.

And now Sarah Helm has written a monumental book that has done just that. She began researching Ravensbrück after writing an earlier book about Vera Atkins, the SOE officer who spent the rest of her life trying to uncover the final fate of the SOE women she trained and sent into action. Four of those women died at Ravensbrück. It might have been easy to keep the focus there, to primarily tell the story of the English and American prisoners. But Helm does not do this. Included in the book are the stories and words of Polish, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch, English, French, and Jewish women–and those are just the ones I’m remembering off the top of my head. She begins at the construction of the camp and continues on to show the ripples of its effect on the survivors after the war.

And I found that Helm does a marvelous job of keep the story on a human scale. When we begin to talk about 150,000 women prisoners, about 30-60,000 women killed, about the conditions and the medical experiments, it might easily become abstract, a kind of numerical problem. But we follow the stories of a few women at a time through the different periods in the camp, seeing how the conditions and decisions affect them. I found this way of storytelling so powerful, so intensely compelling, that I ended up reading this book very quickly, considering the length and subject.

Helm manages to let the voices of the survivors and victims–as well as the guards and other more culpable characters–come through, and at the same time she contextualizes them. She doesn’t shy away from presenting the circumstances of the account, the biases and self defenses of the witnesses, the questions we may never have the answers to. She is able to give an overview, to synthesize the different accounts and information to paint a picture, without denying the complexities of the situation and of the people involved–so many of whom could be both kind and unimaginably cruel.

One of the things I found most interesting were the accounts of resistance and sabotage, which were far more prevalent than I had realized. The workers in the various factories, at great personal risk, sabotaged parts for planes and bombs. Those who worked to sew clothing for German soldiers “often worked together, agreeing to destroy the finest fur by cutting it into tiny pieces, which they called poppy seed or macaroni…Others worked in groups of up to twelve, taking advice from veterans like Halina Choraznya, the Warsaw chemistry professor, who calculated how to give the anoraks special treatment by piercing the fur in such a way that it would fall apart.” Yet Helm also shows that with those acts of courage came a great price, and that this price was often demanded of others.

And yet, there were people like Halina Choraznya, who is described as “like a little mouse. Sitting there. A very strong little mouse. She organised everything,” who did act with great courage and resolve. And of course there is the amazing story of hiding the Rabbits, which appears in Rose Under Fire, and which is true. It really happened. The lights in the Appellplatz went out. We think of the people in the concentration camps as victims. But Helm (and others) show a much more complicated reality. In one sense, they were certainly victims of Nazi atrocities. But many of them also fought–in the camps, in ways small and large.

One of the major themes in Rose Under Fire is the phrase “tell the world”. It’s the motive Rose uses to keep going, and the burden she carries afterwards. What I did not realize is that, like the lights going out and the hidden Rabbits, it too is true. It occurs over and over again in the narratives of the survivors and witnesses, that same mixture of defiance and hope and responsibility. For instance: “A Norwegian prisoner told her rabbit friend that she would insist on being executed in her place. ‘You should be the one to tell the world about the crimes committed against you.'” And a prisoner who was briefly released “believed she had witnessed a monstrous crime in the making, and that she had been released by God to tell the world.” A quick Google Books search of the text turned up seventeen separate uses of the phrase, some in original testimony and some paraphrased.

It is perhaps the tragedy of Ravensbrück that the stories of the women who lived and fought and died and survived have been so forgotten, despite all their efforts. I hope that this amazing and heartbreaking book is another strike against that silence, another way to tell the world.

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Recent Reading: Sheinkin, Cypess, Carroll, Neumeier

port chicago 50Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin: I have had somewhat mixed feelings about Sheinkin’s non-fiction in the past, mostly due to his tendency to fudge some of the details just a little. However, I thought Port Chicago 50 did an excellent job of letting the people who were involved tell their own story, while at the same time giving the context and background for readers. I also appreciated that Sheinkin several times said, “We simply don’t know what actually happened at this point.” I would much rather have this kind of statement than a supposition or even a recreation. This is an important and powerful story, and casts light on an often-forgotten moment in the history of civil rights in America. I think it will work best for readers who are ready to grapple with the idea that courage doesn’t always get an outward reward, but I would certainly recommend it for a wide audience.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, Roaring Book Press; mg/YA non-fiction

death markedDeath Marked/a by Leah Cypess: After reading and mostly liking Cypess’s Death Sworn last year, I definitely wanted to read the second book in the duology. Ileni has left the assassins’ cave and is now in the sorcerers’ power. But what she finds there will test her loyalty all over again. As with the first book, my reaction is mostly positive. I like Ileni quite a bit, and especially the way she’s shown to be powerful without being the awesomest everrr!!!! Her power does have limitations and a lot of the book is her grappling with the moral issues that her use of the sorcerers’ lodestones brings up. At the same time, I felt that the romance subplot never worked for me, even less than it did in the first book. And I found the conclusion more than a bit abrupt and not entirely convincing. All in all, this is one I perhaps wanted to like more than I did, although I suspect that some readers will love it.

Book source: eARC from Edelweiss
Book information: 2015, Greenwillow Books; YA fantasy

through the woodsThrough the Woods by Emily Carroll: Genuinely frightening graphic novel with fairy tale echoes. I recommend NOT reading this one right before bed, as I unfortunately did. The art and story work marvelously together, and I love the way the pictures sometimes flow out of the confinement of boxes to take over the whole page. I felt that the overall conceit reminded me a bit of Poisoned Apples, but the themes are more subtly dealt with here and in general, I liked Through the Woods better. If you don’t like to be scared, this probably isn’t the book for you, but it’s dark and delicious and will definitely be sticking with me.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, Margaret McElderry books; YA graphic novel

lord of the changing windsLord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier: So, I honestly thought I had read this book, and only got it out to re-read it. It turns out that I hadn’t read it at all, or at least have no memory or record of doing so! Which is a shame, since it’s a really marvelous story. (Also, there’s the whole favorite author/Twitter friend thing.) I love the worldbuilding here, both the details of everyday life and the wider political issues and implications. (There is also some truly excellent food.) Although the story takes on big topics, there is at the same time an intimacy to it. We stick pretty closely to two viewpoints and the arcs of these two main characters are pretty closely interwoven. I found that I liked this one with the same part of my reading brain that likes Andrea K. Höst’s books (which is not surprising at all). I’ve already devoured the second and am part-way through the third book.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2010, Orbit; adult fantasy (though excellent YA crossover)

Categories
bookish posts reviews

January 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner
The Ivory Trilogy by Doris Egan
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shahib Nye
Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan
Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge
Towards Zero, Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
Picture Book Monday
Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
House of Shadows by Rachel Neuemeier

Other books
The Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine: Historical fiction. This is a just fine book, and I appreciated that it’s about a character with albinism. But it reads very dryly and I think it suffered from a tendency to overexplanation. I think Erskine has clearly done a lot of research into the era, and yet it never quite came alive for me in the way other books have.

A Corruptible Crown by Gillian Bradshaw: Historical fiction. The sequel to London in Chains. I liked it, because it’s Bradshaw and I like Lucy. But for me, neither book has quite the appeal of her books that are set in antiquity. It probably doesn’t help that I have a intense dislike for Cromwell and the Puritans. But of course, she shows the complexities of the time quite well, as usual.

The One That I Want by Jennifer Echols: I really enjoy Echols, especially when I want something that’s smart, well written, and comforting. This one isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but it was on the shelf and I hadn’t re-read it much.

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand: Review coming shortly!

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins: A very mixed bag; a few I enjoyed, but overall not one I personally felt super enthusiastic about. I often feel ambivalent about anthologies, especially those featuring many different authors. I did, however, like Kelly Link’s Tam Lin story, which was the main reason I read it.

Ticker by Lisa Mantchev: I was hoping I would like this one, because I did enjoy Mantchev’s earlier books. But the curse of steampunk did me in! I should know better at this point. I was really bothered by the ahistoricalness of it, and the way the main character interacted with her physical issues did not make much sense to me.

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin: I was not a huge fan of this one, unfortunately. It’s a retelling of HC Andersen’s “The Emperor and the Nightingale”, but the way in which it was a retelling didn’t work for me. However, I think my biggest issue is that I’m not sure it works for the target audience. I’m all for complex, difficult books for kids, but I don’t think this one is interesting enough.

Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy: Gorgeous informational book about sharks in the San Francisco bay area. There’s a wealth of facts, and beautiful illustrations that honestly work far better than any photos could. (I have recently become a huge fan of illustrated informational books!) This one got a Sibert Honor on Monday, and it’s well deserved.

Protector
by CJ Cherryh: One of my favorites of the recent Foreigner books (I feel like I keep saying that, but it keeps being true!). Cherryh really shows off her ability to weave different strands together: the remnants of the Shadow Guild, the ongoing questions about Tatiseigi and Damiri’s manchi, Cajeiri’s growing up. It felt a bit like everything kicked into a new gear in this one.

Other posts
Historical Fantasies: 1920s on
Patricia McKillip readalikes
Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites
Top Ten Tuesday: 2015 debuts
Links from January 5th
Links from January 19th
Christmas cooking and baking
My 2015 reading goals
My current planning method
Favorite Author: Elizabeth Marie Pope

TV & movies
It was a pretty quiet month. I watched a lot of Poirot and rewatched several favorites: Decoy Bride, Sabrina (the 90s version), and Amelie.