Thursday, 30 May 2019

Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy by Barbara Casey + #Giveaway

Velvalee Dickinson: The "Doll Woman" Spy by Barbara Casey

Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 184 pages
Genre: True Crime / Historical / Biography
Publisher: Strategic Media Books
Release date: April 2019
Tour dates: May 27 to June 7, 2019
Content Rating: PG - Velvalee Dickinson is appropriate for all ages.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

Velvalee Dickinson was born in Sacramento, California, graduated from Stanford University, married three times, and then in the early 1930s moved to New York City where she eventually opened her own exclusive doll shop on the prestigious Madison Avenue. It was there that she built her reputation as an expert in rare, antique, and foreign dolls. She traveled extensively around the country lecturing and exhibiting her dolls while building a wealthy clientele that included Hollywood stars, members of high society, politicians, and other collectors.

​When medical bills started to accumulate because of her husband’s poor health and business started to fail with the onset of World War II, she accepted the role as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Government. By hiding coded messages in her correspondence about dolls, she was able to pass on to her Japanese contacts critical military information about the US warships. After surveilling Velvalee for over a year, the FBI arrested her and charged her with espionage and violation of censorship laws. She became the first American woman to face the death penalty on charges of spying for a wartime enemy.

Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy is a carefully researched glimpse into the “Doll Woman’s” life as a collector of dolls, and as the highest paid American woman who spied for the Imperial Japanese Government during World War II.

Perhaps unsurprising for a wartime spy, Velvalee Dickinson was a quiet secretive person. Little is known about her life other than her infamous trial and the events immediately pertaining to it so Barbara Casey had her work cut out here to create this biography. I thought she did well in putting across the wartime paranoia about all things Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbor, especially the suspicions surrounding the five Doll Letters. They would certainly have looked completely innocuous to me without the code having been explained. It was also interesting that Velvalee managed to become quite the celebrity expert for a few years - her fame transcending just doll collector circles - despite aspersions being later cast on just how much knowledge she actually had of antique dolls. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Casey spreads her net far and wide to flesh out this biography so we also get information about warships for example, and brief potted biographies of other people connected with Velvalee or with the espionage case. I appreciated the breadth of information although I would have liked more details on Velvalee herself. Sometimes I felt as though perhaps there wasn't enough known to justify this length of book. Overall The Doll Woman Spy is a satisfactory glimpse into a little known aspect of 1940s America.

To read more reviews, please visit Barbara Casey's page on iRead Book Tours.

Meet the Author:  ​

Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, as well as book-length works of nonfiction, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Her nonfiction true crime book, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned for a major film and television series. Her nonfiction book, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave, is under contract for a major film. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency.

Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2018 Barbara received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband, and three pets who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix; Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.

Connect with the author: Website

Enter the Giveaway!
Win 1 of 2 $20 Amazon gift cards (USA & Canada) + 1 of 2 print copies of Velvalee Dickinson (USA & Canada) and 1 of 2 gifted Kindle copies (USA) (total 6 winners)
Ends June 14, 2019

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  1. Stephanie, thank you so much for your review of my latest book. Velvalee was certainly a complicated woman and a free spirit for her time. I appreciate your kind words and wish you and your bloggers my best.

    ~ Barbara

  2. A WINNING READ - will certainly be adding to my bookshelf

    1. Thank you, Margaret. I appreciate your comment.

  3. I would love to read this whether I win or not!

    1. Thank you for such a nice comment. It is an interesting story, but even more so because of the whole culture of doll collecting that Velvalee was involved in.

  4. Sounds like you enjoyed this one.

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you, Victoria. I hope you get a chance to read it.

  6. I have her book Assata Shukuta a 29th century slave on my to read list.

    1. Thank you, Dawn. I appreciate your comment. My book Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave is under contract for a major film.

  7. I love the cover!


    1. Thank you, Edye. It represents her state of mind and the bad choices she made in her life. The dolls shown are actual dolls that were in Velvalee's collection.

  8. True Crime is one of my favorite genres, so this book definitely caught my eye! I'm adding it to my TBR and really looking forward to reading it! Thanks for sharing! ❤

    1. I am so glad you stopped by, Bunny. Velvalee was an interesting and complex woman. I think you will enjoy reading about her.