Sunday, June 28, 2015

Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery, by Lawrence H. Levy. Broadway Books, 2015

In 1888, in New York City, Mary Handley gets fired from her sweatshop job just in time to get appointed as a detective on the New York police force- the first woman to be on the force. Given the attitudes of the time, she is harassed by the men on the force and hounded by the press. But she’s determined to solve the murder of Charles Goodrich, barely retired accountant for Thomas Edison and fiancĂ© of her friend. Through the course of Mary’s investigation, she meets Edison, J.P. Morgan, Nikola Tesla, a hired assassin, and a young man who woos her but turns out not to be as he seems. She finds herself followed, beaten, drugged, and lied to. But Mary is not your typical girl of this era; she knows jujitsu and is not afraid to fight. Although there are numerous people that look to have a reason for murder, the actual murderer turns out to be a complete surprise.

This is Levy’s first novel, and I have to say it shows in places. Mary is a, well, Mary Sue despite being authored by a man. She thinks a little too modernly to be totally believable, and speaks a little too modern era, too. I enjoyed the story, and feel the era was pretty well depicted, as well as the historical figures although I’m sure many readers will be upset by Edison’s portrayal. The story is based on a real event; Mary Handley was real and indeed helped to solve the murder. There was just a little too much explaining things to readers instead of just showing them; this looks to be the first of series so I’m hoping the author gets better with time as there is promise here. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from Library Thing's Early Reviewers program.

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Courtesan, by Alexandra Curry. Dutton, 2015

In 1881, a Chinese mandarin is beheaded for speaking the truth to the Emperor, leaving his 7 year old daughter, Jinhua,  orphaned, as her mother died giving birth to her. His First Wife promptly sells her, and she, the pampered child who has unbound feet and the ability to read, ends up in a low class brothel and forced into being  a ‘money tree’ at just shy of twelve years old. The only person who is kind to her through this is the brothel maid, Suyin. Her career is cut mercifully short, however, when a high government official, Subchancellor Hong, visits and decides she is the reincarnation of his old love. Jinhua’s life takes her not just to the upper class again, but to Vienna, and to Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.

Sai Jinhua was a real woman, and through the years much of the detail of her life has been lost, altered, and made legendary. The author has done her research, not just into Jinhua’s life but the lives of those who knew (or might have known) her, and into the conditions in China during the period, but of course, given all the varying ‘histories’ she has had to make choices about which ones to use and breathe life into the story. The story comes off as (mostly) real feeling, but drags at times. The last part of the book drags- which is odd, considering what violent events take place in it. I came away with great sympathy for Jinhua- and even more of Suyin. In this book, Jinhua is totally human, with both good and bad aspects to her character. Not the best example of this type of novel, but this is a first effort and the author has great promise. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things affected my review.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Another Little Piece of My Heart, by Richard Goldstein. Bloomsbury 2015

In 1966, twenty-two year old Goldstein walked into the Village Voice and invented the job he wanted: rock critic. During his time doing this, he had some amazing adventures and met a lot of the great rock innovators. He became friends with Janis Joplin, was a passenger in a car driven by a completely stoned Dennis Wilson (who at one point in the trip said “Whoa! The road is doing these weird things.”), and had the Velvet Underground play at his wedding. But in this time of social upheaval, music came to seem less important than politics and protests. His beat changed to protests, he became friends with Abbie Hoffman, and hung with the Black Panthers. Later he became a chronicler of pop culture, and then a worker for gay rights.

The book really only spans a few years, but so much happened during that time- the core of the hippie subculture came and went. Music went from being all about the music to selling out to commercial interests. The drug scene went from happy, smiling potheads to bikers selling the hard, injectable stuff. The innocence was lost.

The book is a personal memoir, but Goldstein’s life is inextricably meshed with so much of the history of the time that you cannot tease them apart. He changed as the times did. 

I loved reading this book; I was born in 1954 so I was too young to appreciate much of what was happening in the world even though I was aware of it. This was a nice trip back through time, viewed through a critical eye. 

 The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way altered my review.