Posts Tagged Doubleday

book review: The Ambassador’s Wife

ambassadors wife

The Ambassador’s Wife By Jennifer Steil.
Doubleday| July 2015|389 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0-385-53902-9

Rating: ***/5*

When I first heard about this novel I knew I wanted to read it: ambassador’s wife in a Middle Eastern country who gets kidnapped sounded both riveting and exciting. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing because the novel doesn’t delve far enough into the ambassador’s wife as the independent bohemian artist prior to meeting and marrying the ambassador. The basic storyline is that Miranda, an American, married British national Finn who serves as ambassador in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Prior to the marriage, Miranda lived a bohemian lifestyle and dated a woman.

“In the past, only with a woman had she felt her body truly unclench, the result of her politics falling in line with her heart. With men she had always been wary, monitoring her every interaction for signs of a power imbalance.”

Now with Finn, they have round-the-clock protection, servants and bodyguards. For Miranda, she’s given up much of her freedom and also pursuing her art in order to be a steadfast ambassador’s wife. She remains naïve about the dangers associated with being the ambassador’s wife. She thinks she can function just like she did as a single woman in this country. One day hiking with a group of women, she’s kidnapped and it’s an unbearable month-long ordeal that changes everything.

“Despite the tragedies, the restrictions felt slightly absurd to Miranda. She has been hiking in this country for three years without incident, and no one she has encountered on her journeys has ever been less than hospitable. In fact, she has been treated more like royalty in this country than she has been anywhere else in the world.”

There’s not enough color, depth and strength in the details. Steil explains Miranda like this: “In fact, she felt a reflexive and guilty condescension toward such domestic ambitions. Her conscience wrestled with this prejudice, meanness not sitting comfortably in her psyche. Who was she to judge anyone else’s choices? Just because traditional wifely duties were not for her did not make them less worthy.” However, Steil fails to show Miranda as this independent spirit. There are mentions of her teaching her Arab students and encouraging them to paint provocatively but the reader fails to truly feel the power and emotion which art can provoke.

Instead the author turns it into somewhat predictable fodder when she’s kidnapped. Instead of being this cool creative, Miranda is a devoted mom whose child to engulf every aspect of her life instead of remaining that vibrant independent. She truly loses her sense of self by being a mother. In addition, it becomes bogged down in unnecessary detail and for a thriller-esque novel it travels at a snail’s pace. Not good in any way. I applaud author Jennifer Steil’s ability to shape this middle Eastern country and provide readers with an idea what it would be like to be an American navigating such an unusual culture.

I kept reading so that’s the bonus. I would like to read a novel from a female ambassador’s point-of-view. The two novels I’ve read have been from the wives’ perspective. The wives tend to serve as hostesses and do some volunteer work; nothing nearly as challenging as their spouses. Author Jennifer Steil worked as a reporter in Yemen and is currently an ambassador’s wife. I expected way more detail. I’m sure she didn’t want to offend any country but I could certainly recognize either Yemen or Libya in her descriptions. I’m not sure why she chose to fictionalize the country. To me that falls flat. Either create a completely different country or city or don’t faintly hide it and think that no one will figure it out.

–review by Amy Steele–if you like my reviews and interviews please donate so I can continue to write.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: The Ambassador’s Wife: A Novel


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book review: The Daring Ladies of Lowell


The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott. Publisher: Doubleday (February 2014). Historical fiction. Hardcover. 287 pages. ISBN 978-0-385-53649-3.

“Her head was pounding, her ears ringing. It was bothering her more today than usual. The endless motion of the machines reverberated through her body—not just in her ears but in her stomach and down in her burning, aching feet. She would soak them tonight, try some of those salts Lovey always used. Alice wiped the perspiration from her brow and looked around. This was home now, strange as that seemed.”

If you grew up in Massachusetts like me, you likely went on a Lowell Mill tour at some point during an elementary school or junior high field trip. I went twice because when my Aunt and cousins visited from Texas they wanted to go. While you rode on a boat along the Merrimack River listening to a guide speak about girls and young women leaving their families from all over New England to work at the Lowell mills it was easy enough to disassociate from it yet dreadful to think about the harsh conditions these women faced back in the 19th century.

Like the Salem witch trials the industrial revolution and bitter working conditions for Lowell mill girls happened essentially in my backyard and I feel particularly close to the plight of the mill girls depicted in this novel. It’s only the second five-star rating I’ve given to any book this year. Kate Alcott vibrantly brings the stories of the Lowell mill girls to the page as she creates strong, outspoken female characters enduring adverse situations that dare imagine and dispute better working and living situations.

“She needed to find her place here, to know when to keep her head down, when to seize opportunity. She would not dwell on it; it would rob her of the thrill of having pushed her way out of a narrow life.”

New Hampshire farm girl Alice Barrow arrives to the Lowell mills in 1832 seeking an independent life from her father. She hopes to save money and makes prodigious plans for her future. Alice never imagined she’d encounter such horrific working conditions. She witnesses a housemate coughing up a bloody cotton ball the size of a golf ball [the fibers they weave get into their lungs]; a girl almost killed when her hair gets caught in machinery; 15 hour shifts; machinery so loud it caused tinnitus; and a 9-year-old bobbin girl who must hide from the mill owners for fear her mother will lose her job. When someone murders her closest friend and confidant, Lovey, it divides the town and pits the mill owners against the workers and places Lovey’s reputation on trial. A young woman like Lovey gets pilloried for having a personal life and many suitors/ paramours/ boyfriends. [Okay, it still happens when a woman gets raped but not as magnified as back in the 19th century when hardly anyone would testify on the dead woman’s behalf.] A roving evangelist gets blamed yet he has supporters in force. Alice takes a stand for justice even if she might lose the man she loves.

Alcott based The Daring Ladies of Lowell on a real case in which someone murdered a Lowell mill girl. I appreciate her meticulous research and attention to detail. It’s both a fascinating portrait and a riveting mystery.

RATING: *****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.

The Daring Ladies of Lowell: A Novel

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