Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Title: Girl Waits with Gun

Author:  Amy Stewart

Information on series: First book in new "Kopp Sisters" series.

Audience: Adult, but it is quite clean and fine for teens.

Rating: Scale 1 to 10 (10 being highest): 7

TL;DR: 1910s New Jersey: three sisters fight “the man” with dignity and sass, based on a true story.

I chose this book in particular because it was a mystery and very much outside of my normal reading habits. I do like to stretch my reading boundaries. The premise seemed intriguing too: The year is 1915, the location: New Jersey, USA. There are three sisters living on a farm and taking care of themselves just fine, thank you very much. The story begins as the sisters are out shopping. Along comes a newfangled automobile which quite suddenly and rather rudely smashes into the ladies' horse-drawn buggy.
What starts as a simple quest to recoup the cost of a demolished buggy turns into an all-out war with the corrupt factory owner (and errant automobile driver) who refuses to pay and in fact, insists on harassing and taunting these ladies with threats and bullets until they feel they are trapped in their home and under siege. But even as we can feel their fear and worry, and the unfairness of the general treatment of women at this time, we also see their strength and fortitude.

Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp just wanted to go about their own business, but as they are thrust into an unwanted struggle, they grow to meet the challenge and then some. All three end up being a hero in their own way in this story. As we watch them take on the corrupt boss and his henchmen (as well as some of the gender norms expected during this era), we get to savor some sweet justice. The best part of the whole story, to me, is the fact that it is based on a true story. The Kopp sisters were real and they were actually involved in a story much like this one! It is great that this tale of three incredible women is finally being told.

This mystery isn't a whodunit, not really. But it does keep us on the edge of our seat wondering how all the pieces fit and how things happened the way they did. I recommend this for anyone who can appreciate sharp and capable main characters who are up against a society that doesn't really respect them, but who do what needs to be done regardless. There are some great one-liners in this book and a general sense of playfulness, even as there are some more serious and thoughtful elements that pin the story together. A great read overall! Book 2 is out now and it is called Lady Cop Makes Trouble.


Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood: Spunky main character, same era. First book in series is "Cocaine Blues." 

Maisie Dobbs Novels by Jacqueline Winspear: Intelligent and sharp main character, mainly set in 1930s. First book is titled "Maisie Dobbs."

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries: Smart woman with older male protegee, same era. "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" is book one.

~Review by Angie Johnson, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Title: Crocodile on the Sandbank 
Author: Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz)
Information on Series: First of 19 (possibly 20)
Audience: Adult
Rating (Scale  of 1-5 with 5 being the highest): 4

TL;DR:  Join Amelia Peabody (Indiana Jones in a skirt) as she embarks on her new life with a trip to Egypt circa 1884.  This spinster turned archaeologist/sleuth has a knack for finding adventure wherever she goes. 

Long Review: Elizabeth Peters wrote one of my favorite historical fiction series, convincingly blending her fictional characters into the fabric of history.  Crocodile on the Sandbank begins in 1884 England. Amelia Peabody is the spinster daughter of a reclusive scholar who let her deal with all the practical day-to-day details of life while he spent his time at work.  Her scholarly interests were nurtured and encouraged and upon his death, she was named his sole beneficiary.  Amelia was suddenly in possession of quite a substantial fortune which brought out all kinds of would-be suitors and relatives begging for money. To escape, she takes off on a tour of classical sites starting in Italy and moving on to Egypt. 

While in Rome, Peabody (as she comes to be known) meets Evelyn Barton Forbes, a woman who attempts to take her own life because she was abandoned after eloping to Italy.  Peabody is nothing if not practical and after saving Evelyn’s life, employs her as a traveling companion.  Evelyn and Peabody make their way to Egypt where they meet the Emerson brothers, Radcliff and Walter.  Peabody and Emerson (Radcliff hates his name, everyone calls him Emerson) loathe one another on sight, but their relationship takes a turn when he falls ill and she is tasked with keeping his excavation going. 

To complicate matters, Peabody’s cousin, Lucas, shows up with a story about her grandfather’s death, his inheritance and a proposal of marriage.  Oh, and there is also a mummy moaning and wandering around the desert at night.  Your typical trip to Egypt. 

Author Elizabeth Peters received her PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago and infuses her novels with a great deal of historical accuracy as well as poking fun at many of the period’s stereotypes.  Through 19 books and a timeline that spans 38 years, readers can follow the adventures of Peabody and Emerson in a series rich in detail, humor, and rife with mysterious happenings.  

I love when I read a fictional account of something that happened in history and it prompts me to investigate further.  An added bonus is when the story draws you in with characters that are both entertaining and knowledgeable.  Amelia Peabody is no simpering, pampered miss, she is a strong woman who can, and does, take care of herself.  She also gets herself into and out of trouble, usually with the help of her trusty umbrella (it is more than just an umbrella).  Do you like history? Are you fascinated with Egypt?  Give this series a try.

A few notes on this series:

* If you read the books in the order in which they were published, you will notice that there are some that don't fall in line chronologically.  Check out to see a summary of the books.  Note the excavation season if you want to read them in chronological order.  

* Elizabeth Peters passed away in 2013, but it looks like there might be a 20th Amelia Peabody book in the works.


Good Night Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas
The genius of Irene Adler is demonstrated in this series, beginning with Good Night Mr. Holmes.

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia Grey enlists the help of private detective Nicholas Brisbane to unravel the mysterious death of her husband, Edward. 

~ Amy Muchmore, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Title: Under a Painted Sky

Author: Stacey Lee

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience: Young Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10, with 10 being highest): 7

Chinese American Samantha and her Father own a dry goods store in 1849 Missouri.  Their store burns down to the ground and her Father died in the fire.  Their landlord offers her shelter at the town hotel where she meets Annamae, a young slave.  Samantha ends up killing the landlord after he tries to rape her.  Annamae helps Samantha escape and they head off to California on the Oregon Trail.  Since the authorities would be looking for a young Chinese American woman and and an escaped slave, they disguise themselves as boys, Sammy and Andy. The fugitives meet up with a trio of kind-hearted cowboys, West, Cay & Peety.  As time goes it gets harder and harder for the girls to conceal their gender especially when Sammy falls for West and Andy for Peety.  I really liked Sammy, Andy, West, Cay & Peety.  They were well written.  The dangers of life on the Oregon Trail and life as a Chinese American female in 1849 were also well written.

Read alikes:

Pirates! by Celia Rees.   A pair of girls disguise themselves as men and join up with pirates after killing someone in self-defense.

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman.  When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice.

Outrun the Moon  by Stacey Lee.  Set in 1906 California, Asian-American, Mercy thought her biggest challenge would be getting into all girls school attended mostly by white rich girls but then a huge earthquake happens.

~ Review by Amy Stuenkel

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Review: Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

Title: Mary Coin

Author: Marisa Silver

Information on series: Not part of a series

Audience: Adult

Rating (scale of 1-10, with 10 being highest): 8

TL;DR:  A parallel narrative of the lives of a photographer, the subject of the photograph and a college professor.  

Longer Review:  Mary Coin is the subject of the famous photograph “Migrant Mother” that Dorothea Lange snapped in Depression era 1936.  When social historian, Walker Dodge, is sorting through his Father’s house he discovers a familial link to the famous photograph.  The book mostly goes back and forth between Mary and Vera Dare (Dorothea)’s stories.  Both women are very strong and have to deal with difficulties by themselves.  Mary marries at 17 to a saw mill worker and has many children.  After her husband dies she becomes a migrant worker where Vera finds her along the road and snaps her picture.  Vera contracted polio as a child and walked with a limp.  She studied photography at Columbia and had her own studio.  She married an artist and had two children.  Her husband eventually left her.
I was more interested in Mary’s storyline than Vera’s.  Usually when I read historical fiction involving artists I find their personalities and their life experiences so different than my own that I don’t enjoy them as much as stories of ordinary working people.  I try to put myself in their shoes and wonder if I would be able to live through what they lived through.  In this case being a migrant worker during the Great Depression.
The author did a good job of portraying the time period.  Her prose is very poignant.  My favorite line is “You’ll know who you are when you start losing things”.

Readalikes:  The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow:  Parallel narratives, Women’s lives and relationships.  Carolyn finds a quilt in her Mother’s attic and is intrigued by its origin.  The story of the quiltmaker is told through transcripts.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood:  Parallel narratives.  An obituary writer who is searching for her missing lover is linked to a woman who is considering leaving her loveless marriage.

Prayers for sale by Sandra Dallas.  Set during the depression, a story of friendship between 86 year old Hennie and 17 year old Nit.

~ Review by Amy Stuenkel