The List of Soiled Doves is the latest offering by Redding Walters. In her previous novels, Redding has taken us to the contemporary Pacific Northwest and to the court of King Charles I of England, crafting entertaining tales wrapped with humor, history, romance, and lots of flavor of the area, the times, and the people.
This novella is no different, I am pleased to say. Walters takes us to Vancouver in the period 1895-1905. You can smell the sea and the coal smoke, hear the raucous roughness of the town as it tries to gain that genteel veneer of a maturing gold rush city. She takes as her inspiration small slips of paper she found stuffed in the back of a court clerks book of verdicts and penalties, “bordello raid sheets” where the “soiled doves” were listed with the fines they paid when the police swept through the town’s red light district.
Walters takes these lists of names and numbers and tells the story of the women, through the eyes of one particularly literate “dove”. You feel their desperation, their humor, their humanity. Walters has captured the vernacular and the lives – the what, why, how – as well as the who, of these women and contrasts them, again through our narrator’s eye, to the men, and the women who, but for a twist of fate, live on the “better” side of town.
The story is fascinating, fast-moving, well-researched, funny, and poignant all at once. Highly recommended!
Martin writes a concise history of a pivotal campaign in the American Revolution. It traces clearly, yet with significant detail, the campaign that included the major battles of Germantown, Brandywine, and Guilford Court House as well as the famous encampment in Valley Forge and a relatively unknown but fascinating struggle for the navigation of the Delaware River from the Atlantic to the city of Philadelphia.
Martin includes vignettes for more detail about key figures, like Baron von Steuben, semi-mythical figures, like Molly Pitcher, and the Hessians who fought for Great Britain. There are many illustrations and several maps.
As with most military histories there are not enough maps. The largest negative with the book, however, was a significant number of typographical errors, including one where the date of an event was entered incorrectly in one paragraph even though it was correct in the immediately preceding paragraph!
Despite this, and its age (26 years since publication when I read it) the book holds up well and tells an important story.
Subtitled Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe this fascinating quadruple biography traces the contemporary lives of the four men, sometimes rivals, sometimes allies, who ruled most of Europe for the first half of the 16th century.
It was, perhaps, a unique half-century, where four skilled monarchs ruled in direct contact with each other. None of their immediate successors was either as successful or ruled as long. Suleiman brought the Ottoman Empire to its peak. Henry laid the groundwork on which Elizabeth made England both a great sea power and a bastion of Protestantism. Charles, arguably, ruled at the height of Habsburg power. He was the most powerful ruler in Europe throughout the period. Finally, Francis, with the weakest position, surrounded as France was by Charles and his subordinates, played the foil skillfully, keeping a balance in Europe and, eventually, breaking up the amalgamated possessions of Charles, leaving his successor, Philip II, weakened and the position of France improved.
The book deals with the monarchs and their wives and mistresses, their courtiers and ambassadors. It delves into their obsessions - Henry's with procuring a male heir, Suleiman with conquest in eastern Europe, Charles and, later, Francis, with religion. Norwich describes the relationships between the four men who knew each other well and, with the exception of Suleiman, spent time with each other. The pomp and extravagance, the patronage and great works are described, providing a fullness to each character as they progress, and age.
A most excellent biography and history of Europe in the first half of the 16th century. Recommended.
A roaring fantastic mix of swords, sorcery, and suspense!
Elizabeth Cobbs has written a history long overdue. While that, in itself, would be a fantastic contribution to anyone's U.S. History book shelf she gives us a bonus of tying the history of America's first women soldiers to that of a second great struggle that stretched across the globe from California to the furthest reaches of Siberia for the 70 years prior and for really the next hundred years as well.
At its core this book is the story of the 223 American women who served in the Signal Corps in the First World War at the express request of General John Pershing because they could do what the men could not - operate the complicated switchboards of the telephone systems of the day better than the men. Cobbs explains why this was so as well as carefully detailing the horrors of war that the operators, as they were called, had to endure, including bombing and shelling, co-located with their male counterparts.
But she also tells the story of how their service furthered greatly the cause of suffrage for women in the United States. She also details how many men saw them as a threat and did everything in their power to diminish their service, including denying them veterans benefits upon their return. Finally, she also details the men who saw them as co-equal and eventually helped the few survivors see justice within their lifetimes - recognition of service, military honors, and their place in history.
The only negative I would mention is that Cobbs ends up being a little repetitive and could come off, a few times, as pedantic. However, the book is well-written, well-edited, and well-researched.
Robert Bruce, through mostly vignettes of the interactions between President Lincoln, the military officers responsible for testing and purchasing new weapons, and the inventors and backers of the many schemes for new weapons weaves a fascinating story. The President, with an open mind and a Let's Try attitude, the inventors mostly earnest and patriotic though often "odd", the backers many painted as unscrupulous, and the military who ran the gamut from progressives to stalwart conservative who would have used the weapons of their fathers if given the chance.
Bruce shows that the time was one of immense technological advancement. Among the many "modern" weapons getting a first look were the machine gun, the breechloading rifle, the rifled cannon, the submarine, and the torpedo. Lincoln had two notable successes in his dealings with the Ordnance chiefs - the introduction of the machine gun and the acceptance of breechloading rifles. He pushed many weapons which ended dubiously and the machine gun that was ordered, the Coffee Mill Gun, did poorly in the field but it lead to the much-improved Gatling gun which faced none of the largest hurdles to service acceptance.
The author introduces enough background on each of the characters to give the reader a good grounding of the events then related in the vignette. He also makes sure to complete each story so that the reader is left satisfied that each small story is complete.
While not a book about the great decisions of Lincoln, the battles, or the campaigns and generals, this is a fascinating look at the technological and bureaucratic end of warmaking, at a time of rapid technological advance. It paints a side of Lincoln, the mechanic, the tinkerer, not often seen.
John Goldstein and Joel Krenis have created a fantastic photo collection of the incredible diversity of India. Fabulous color photos with clear, insightful, and personal text tell a story of India, for Americans, that carries the complex picture that is India.
John and Joel have traveled extensively and are both excellent photographers and excellent observers of what they are photographing. They give you not only the image, but the story behind the image, what is really going on, what is being portrayed, which is often much more than one can see on a superficial glance.
The book opens with chapters on the People, the Architecture, and the Animals of the subcontinent to provide a general understanding. Then they take the reader on a series of in-depth adventures - to a camel fair, to the Taj Mahal, and a series of the city of Jaipur from the perspective of a hot air balloon. The book finishes with chapters on the sacred traditions of India and then three chapters of tourist adventures - the view from the road, several unique hotels, and the Palace on Wheels train.
John and Joel self-published with Blurb.
I have had the pleasure of reading Jessica Mehta’s fine collection of poetry, Secret-Telling Bones. This is a collection of incredibly personal poems; I felt Ms. Mehta's soul as I read each one. They are deep poems, with layers of meaning. I found myself re-reading them at different times of the day and in different moods and each time the words told a different story. And yet, they are easily read; you grasp the first story, whatever it is, in the first reading, the first breath. They are also, deeply connected poems, connected to their objects, their experiences, their secret-tellings.
Ms. Mehta tells of experiences I can only imagine. They become real. Her NDN heritage is front and center, you can feel the emotion of identity and heritage, pride and shame, and hope and triumph. The poems bring a cross-culturalism, with humans and animals that is intense, honest, and unique. The emotions are often raw, the telling unvarnished and for that, all the more powerful and real and compelling. My favorite was “Landmarks Made of Stone”.
Importantly, this collection is published by the operating system which is dedicated to keeping books in print, on paper. I whole-heartedly recommend Secret-Telling Bones. Follow the link buy new from an Indie bookseller recommended by Ms. Mehta.
Molly Katz started writing for the Candlelight Ecstasy Romance series in 1984. Worth His Weight in Gold was her 5th novel for that imprint. She had some success in the serial romance genre but stopped in 1987 when the series shut down and pursued a career in stand-up comedy. She penned two psychological thrillers in the 1990s but is best known for her humor books, most notably Jewish as a Second Language.
Worth His Weight in Gold is a typical Ecstasy Romance, the woman falling for the man improbably and deeply. Ecstasy was a competitor to Silhouette and Harlequin in the 1980s, during the heyday of the serial romance. If you like the classic sereial romance novel from the 1980s, relatively clean and short. this is a good one, and much of Katz's humor comes through.
Ecstasy series are highly collectible and rare, especially in good condition. The series had strong authors but could never break through against the larger series, despite the backing of Dell.
From the jacket: "He was waiting for her--and she ran into his trap! Ruth Barrett was being held at gunpoint for trespassing when Frank Gordon, chief of the police force she'd publicly embarrassed, came to arrest her. But the real trouble began when the lithe blond runner passed the handsome giant on a country path and fell into the lake in surprise. Suddenly she was in his strong arms, unexpectedly warm on that cold February day. Why did she yield to his masterful embrace? Why couldn't she say 'No!' before he swept her off her feet, filling her with desire for everything she'd tried to reject?"
The creek ran cold and clear, rushing over slates made from the mud of an inland lake millions of years before and rapidly eroding back into mud. Water striders slid across the water where it eddied and dragonflies patrolled just above the surface of the riffles. Rushes and grasses grew lush along the banks and in many places willows and birch overhung the gurgling water.
But Charlie wasn’t interested in any of that. He was laser-focused on what lay beneath the smaller slates in places not quite in the most forceful stream but not in the quiet backwaters either. He stood still, bare feet immersed to just above the ankle, bent at the waist and gently lifted one flat rock with his left hand. His patience and care was rewarded as a two-inch long blue-black crayfish was exposed.
Stunned by the sudden light it was stationary and Charlie reached his right hand slowly around the tail-end of the crayfish moving to lightly pinch it just behind the extended pincers. At the last moment the crayfish sensed the hand stealthily approaching and burst backward with a powerful flick of its tail and disappeared into the shadows of the nearby bank.
Undaunted, Charlie replaced the rock in his left hand and lifted another with his right. Again he was rewarded by an adult crayfish temporarily dazed by its exposure. This one had a white splotch across its carapace. Charlie noted it without thinking and reached his left hand in, repeating his previous maneuver from the other side.
This time the crayfish was none the wiser until his small fingers closed on its thorax and he managed to gleefully extract the crustacean from its watery home. The crayfish snapped ineffectually at the air in front, Charlie’s expert grasp effectively pinning the pincers so they could not reach him.
Charlie stood up straight and held it directly in front of his face, staring at it eye to eye. “Hello,” he said in a conversational way, “hope you are having as good a day as me!”
Then he bent down again and returned the crayfish to the creek, releasing it a few inched below the surface but not quite at the bottom. A couple strokes of its tail and the crayfish disappeared under another rock.
Some days Charlie could play this game for hours but today he only caught 5 (and missed 4) before he decided to take a break. He sat on the bank, dangling his feet in a slightly deeper pool and watched the tiny dace flit back and forth in the deepest part of the pool. Suddenly a slightly larger fish burst from the school and broke the surface to plunge back to the “depths”, a mayfly larvae barely fitting into its fully distended mouth.
“Good catch!” Charlie said aloud as if to encourage the fish.
He lay back in the grass and looked up at the sky. Clouds were coming up, big ones that had not been there when he had walked down to the creek. Unconcerned, he lay on the bank plucking the seed heads off the grass and watched as the clouds scudded across the sky until one eventually blotted out the sun.
A cool wind followed the cloud and Charlie reluctantly stood up, pulling his wet feet onto dry ground. The sun returned briefly and he let it dry his feet as much as he could before it vanished behind the next cloud. He slipped his shoes onto his now only damp feet and, socks in hand, started up the hill toward home, another day of “fishing for crawdads” at an end.
(c) 2018 Greg Schroeder
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)