Woman in the Shadows: A Novel
I am just slightly disappointed in this melodrama I read called Woman in the Shadows by Jane Thynne. Honestly, I was not aware that this book was part of a series, and so it was a bit frustrating for me. There was a lot of plot and details alluded to in this story that I could not get a grasp of, having not read the other books. There seemed to be too much going on and not enough to tie in to the basic story line that originally drew me in. There were good points in this novel: first, its discussion of the Nazi regime and the leaders from much more intimate angles than most history books would have, and second, it also actually provided a strong female lead character who has brains as well as looks. Still, the story line kept getting swept away with minor characters and interactions that felt forced and unnatural. I couldn’t quite fall into this novel as I would have liked. However, I’d still recommend it to others if they enjoy espionage and the pre-World War II era in general, and if they’ve read the other books in the series first.
One Cowrie Shell
Sparks’ One Cowrie Shell is a tragic coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of a terrible period in humanity’s near history. Jaiye is a member of the Yoruba tribe. He is on the cusp of manhood, tending his yam field, and dreaming of the woman he wants as his wife. Unfortunately for Jaiye, Kembi is already promised to another. It is the custom of the Yoruba that village elders arrange marriages. Kembi is promised to Ekun, and Akinya to Jaiye. Our young protagonist is very inquisitive and very stubborn. He is ready to go fight the neighboring Dahomey, as his people have done for as long as anyone can remember. He wants to turn prisoners over to the slave traders and earn cowrie shells. While merely pretty shells to the Europeans and Americans, cowrie shells serve a monetary value to the Yoruba and Dahomey.
Jaiye repeatedly insists, with the stubbornness teens anywhere can muster, that he will have Kembi for his wife. Despite the counsel and contrivances of his father, Jaiye will not let go of the foolish idea. He commits a terrible crime, earning him thirty cowries in blood money, and his actions lead to three villagers being taken away by slavers- Ekun, Kembi, and Jaiye’s little brother, Lekan. Jaiye embarks on a perilous journey to find them, crossing the ocean and stalking plantations like a panther in the dark, careful to stay out of sight. His journey takes him up and down the U.S. coast, across the sea to England, and back home to the Yoruba.
Though Jaiye learns of all three who were taken, not one of them makes the journey back home with him. Jaiye returns with a wealth of knowledge, though. He is the first to travel to ’the other world,’ and returned to tell of it. He has seen the atrocities inflicted on the slaves–the beatings, the rapes, the senseless killings. Jaiye has a new mission in life, albeit, perhaps a somewhat futile one. He wants to stop the fighting between Yoruba and Dahomey for good, something easier said than done. Jaiye goes from being g a self-absorbed child, for the most part, to a somewhat respectable man.
Fun stuff: I am an anthropologist by schooling, if not active practice, and I loved the glimpses of Yoruba culture and history. These details seem accurate so far as my knowledge goes. This region/cultural milieu isn’t my forte, but I am now interested in learning more. The details of slave trading, and this era of slavery, were an accurate reminder of a harsh and senselessly heartbreaking period. One particular point of interest for me was the funerary customs of the Yoruba and the superstitions regarding daytime burials, such as the spirit seeing their shadow and retaliate against the living.
Jaiye slowly learned valuable lessons, such as the Yoruba and Dahomey should stop fighting and sending people to the slavers, and that the loss of dignity suffered by captives of either side has no monetary value. I was particularly touched when Jaiye found Ekun and came to the realization that Ekun had seen him as a friend, not a competitor. Jaiye began to realize the harsh consequences of his actions in relation to what happened to Lekan, Kembi, and Ekun, which were horrific events even hearing about them ‘second-hand.’
Not so fun stuff: the writing seemed very simplistic at times. There was a good deal of telling, when showing would have been more engaging. Some of the dialogue, and other phrasing, seems stilted. It comes across as forced and unrealistic. There were also descriptions of daily activity that is random and, while interesting, not relevant to the story.
I would strongly recommend a professional editing round to help strengthen and tighten the writing. There is a good deal of unnecessary repetition that could be phrased differently, implied in different ways, or eliminated altogether. Point: Jaiye’s father reiterating numerous times that Akinya will be his wife; she is the one chosen for him, and it cannot be changed. Jaiye needs a smart Gibbs smack to the back of the head. His poor da has patience to put a saint to shame.
Another issue that cropped up often were places where quote marks were missing or where they are present and should not be. Tense bounced back and forth from present to past in same paragraph, sometimes even same sentence. Occasionally, type switched to italics for no apparent reason, which jarred me from the story as I attempted to suss out why the change had been made.
This story has a lot of potential, and Sparks could take it so much further. There’s certainly room for Sparks to bloom as an author. I hope to see an edited, cleaned-up second edition of One Cowrie Shell in the future! I will happily adjust my rating accordingly, and I do intend to keep a weather eye out for new works by the author.
Whitehall (Season 1 Episode 3): “On His Blindness”
Three things are obvious: 1) You can knock Barbara down a notch, but she climbs right back up. 2) Catherine’s journey to England to become its new queen through her marriage to Charles II is helping her find a strength she never knew she had. 3) With two strong-minded women in his life and a country to rule, Charles may have an easier time leading the country than keeping his women completely in check.
A name is stricken off the list for Lady of the Bedchamber. Battles of will are at a standstill between the King and Queen. A power hungry mistress fights to gain what she feels she deserves. Needless to say, while there is work to be done by the many maids and servants in the castle there are plenty of whispers floating around to keep them entertained as they work.
Whitehall seems to have started at a sprint and just keeps on going with no sign of slowing down in sight. Episode 2 is definitely an episode of retaliation, deception, and emotion bubbling to the surface. “Bold” can hardly describe the actions by Charles, Barbara, and Catherine. There is a famous line from English playwright and poet William Congrave, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ I believe that this episode takes this quote and alters it a bit to imply ‘Hell hath no fury like an underestimated woman.’ Which woman prevails has yet to be seen, but after reading episodes one through three it is still anyone’s game. Keep up with Whitehall by reading episodes one through three so you are ready to join the scandalous exploits that are sure to come!
Read our other episode reviews of Whitehall.
The Renegade Queen
Victoria Claflin is a woman for the ages: this would be true except for the fact that her role in history, if not women’s history, hadn’t been sanitized, or even scrubbed out. She is at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement along with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But this is getting ahead of the book at hand, The Renegade Queen. Our protagonist is the sixth of ten children, conceived in a tent during a revival. She is given the gift of clairvoyance, yet exploited and abused by her huckster pimp father. She is seen as the Sybil of the Midwest. Her wretched future is derailed by the seeming good nature of Canning Woodhull, who frees her from the captivity of her abusive father. Victoria marries the dashing Canning and immerses herself in the anti-slavery movement, but is subject to the drudgery of her new husband’s drinking and womanizing. She sees parallels between the move for freedom of African Americans and women in the United States. She also equates the handicap of her son with her husband’s lust for drink. Victoria throws herself fully into the woman’s equality movement along with her sister Tennessee. They are iconoclasts who are not willing to tread lightly in their path towards the vote, but will burn every bridge if necessary. That is what ultimately sets them apart from those in the history books.
Eva Flynn’s work is powerful in its portrayal of a renegade suffragette. Victoria Woodhull is a multifaceted character who evokes empathy, the occasional laugh, and ultimately sympathy for the plight of the hardworking woman. Victoria is not your conventional heroine, but in this time of the United States, conventions mattered little.
The Weekend Warriors
The story setting is the 1980s, the Cold War dragging to a close. However, it’s not over yet. The Soviet Union is increasingly engaging with NATO countries, Russian planes invading U.S. airspace and moving into an unprepared peacetime Germany. The Americans have had enough, and family man Mike Fitzmaurice of Boston finds himself mobilized overnight. He commands a unit headed for Germany, a group of civilians who trained but never really expected to go to war. They are “weekend warriors,” forced to pull together limited resources and face battle against a professional Russian military hardened by years of war in Afghanistan.
One of the strongest parts of this novel is the battle scenes, which move from the grand scale of an airstrike and then into the intimate point of view of the soldiers on the ground scrambling to learn their trade on the fly. They rise to the occasion in such scenes as a corporate executive finding a use for her Russian language skills. Just as strong are the personal relationships that develop between characters whose lives depend on each other. In a subplot, Fitzmaurice’s wife Elizabeth, a surgeon in Boston, finds herself treating Mike’s fallen comrades. Some parts of the book could use attention, such as the frequent use of unfamiliar military jargon. I interpreted this language by context as much as possible and then when finished with the novel found the glossary in the back. A better way to handle such terminology is to incorporate the definition in the text itself, through interior and exterior dialogue, rather than the reader constantly referring to a glossary and being taken out of the story. The story doesn’t grab interest initially, as the first scenes are told from an omniscient narrator or through memos and announcements—at times the narrator seems to be the announcement itself. However, once the story moves into Michael Fitzmaurice’s point of view, the reader is hooked in the desire to find out if this weekend warrior and his rag-tag team will prevail.
The Edge of the Fall: A Novel
The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams is definitely a must read for all. For fans of Downtown Abby, this is indeed a read that you won’t want to miss. Readers are brought back in time to the roaring twenties: A dashing, exciting, and bold time for those living in the time period.
The Edge of the Fall will leave readers in suspense even when they have come to the end, wondering what really just happened. Witnesses say a man has pushed his wife over the edge of the fall. Did he really, or are police going after an innocent man? A cat goes missing, only to turn up dead. The mystery of who and why will plague readers into continuing their search for the answers as they keep turning the pages. The story is suspenseful and well written and the characters are believable.
The Edge of the Fall is a thrilling adventure, that will leave readers guessing and feeling goosebumps as they dive further into the story. I enjoyed reading this new title by Kate Williams. Her talent shines throughout her historical novel.