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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The House of Unexpected Sisters - The New No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel

What a delightful surprise to find The House of Unexpected Sisters (#731) on the shelves of my local library!  I had somehow managed to miss the fact that there had been an addition to Alexander McCall Smith's wonderful No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

I'm not sure why these books are so appealing and satisfying to read.  The mysteries aren't any great shakes; Precious Ramotswe and her staff will eventually figure out what made people behave badly or in unexpected ways.  It's more that the characters that populate this African-based series are so full of both the virtues and the foibles that we can easily recognize in ourselves, families and co-workers.  Despite the exotic locale, the people we meet in these pages are just like us in what makes them tick.

In this outing, Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Rra Polopetsi untangle a complicated case of an unfair employee firing, discover a threat to Mma Makutsi's husband's furniture business and uncover an unknown Mma Ramotswe who will change Precious' life.

Brew up that pot of red bush tea and prepare to settle in for a cozy visit with these literary friends!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Saboteur - The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Naze Commando

I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Kix speak about his book The Saboteur (#730) recently at our library's BookMania!.  In it, he chronicles the war time activities of Robert de La Rochefoucault, scion of one of France's noblest families.

Although he was only a teenager, Robert was opposed to the Nazis from the beginning, listening to General Charles de Gaulle's nightly broadcasts from exile in England under the noses of the Nazis billeted in the family chateau.  Robert longed to contribute to the resistance, but when he was denounced in an anonymous letter to the  Germans, his mother decided for his own safety that he would need to escape to England himself.

How he made his way there, was recruited and trained  by the British for a commando unit, and the daring missions he carried out in France are recounted in The Saboteur.  Imprisoned, tortured, La Rochefoucault managed to escape his own execution not once, but twice.  It's a story as gripping and intense as any best-selling thriller.  The irony is that until near the end of his long life his own family did not know the details of his wartime exploits, but he had to come clean when he received the Legion of Honor from a grateful French government.  It is truly an amazing story.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Robert Harris' latest book, Munich (#729), is a thoughtful political novel about a historic meeting between Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain and Pierre Daladier in a last ditch effort by the Western powers to stave off another catastrophic world war.  The outcome of the meeting was never in doubt.

Baby Boomers like myself tend to think of Neville Chamberlain, if we think of him at all, as being "The Appeaser", willing to cave to Hitler's demands.  Yet this novel does much to illuminate the immense personal courage Chamberlain showed in provoking a last minute meeting on the eve of the Germans marching into Czechoslovakia.  Had England been forced into a war immediately to support its treaty with France, she would have been totally unprepared.  Concessions wrung from the Germans in the Munich Agreement allowed her time to make her own wartime preparations.

Harris has humanized his story by introducing Hugh Legat in the British Foreign Office and Paul von Hartmann, working in the German Foreign Office.  These two have a history; they were friends and classmates at Balliol College at Oxford, but have not seen each other in six years after a falling out.  How each of them winds up attending the conference provides some suspense to the story, and the only real moments of personal danger here.  Each has a secret.

I was glad that I had recently seen the movie about Winston Churchill, The Darkest Hour.  It did help to figure out the roles the men in Munich would subsequently play in World War II.  However, I am even more thankful that I have read former Secretary of State Madeline Albright's memoir Prague Winter (See my post of 12/13/12 ) in which she explains how the Czechoslovakian territorial issues came to be a crisis for that country, and thus, for the rest of Europe.  It's merely a given in Munich, and Mr. Harris doesn't really flesh out details here.

I wouldn't call Munich a page turner in terms of action but it is a compelling read.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Need To Know

Karen Cleveland's Need To Know (#728) is a CIA espionage thriller with a twist; at its heart is the domestic drama that plays out when a career CIA analyst in the Russia division discovers that her husband and the father of their four young children is a Russian sleeper agent.  That discovery sets the rest of the action in the book in motion.

Does Vivian Miller make the right choices?  It's difficult to say, but easy to see what drives her.  The twists and turns kept me glued to the pages to see what was going to happen next.  Would Vivian be able to protect herself and her family, and at what cost? Or would she take the easy way out and yield to the dark side?

I will say that although I enjoyed Need To Know very much, when I suggested it to my husband, he read the cover blurb and decided it was not for him.  Maybe the emphasis on juggling family responsibilities along with a full time career won't appeal to most men, but that would be a shame.  This spy novel puts a spotlight on agonizing choices that don't fit well with a James Bond image.  I'm recommending it anyway.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Enchantress of Numbers

I was seduced by the cover art of Jennifer Chiaverini's latest novel The Enchantress of Numbers (#727).  It's a splendid portrait of Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and mathematician extraordinaire.  Alas, for me, that was the best part of this book.

Although Ms. Chiaverini is a best-selling author, I went back to the post I wrote on the previous book of hers which I read for one of my book clubs: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker (See my post of  4/24/14.)  My opinion hasn't changed.  It seems that I read and read and read Enchantress and Ada was still a newborn in the cradle.  I couldn't soldier on any further.  Again, I think I will be better off learning more about this fascinating personality, Ada Lovelace, by reading a straight biography.  At least Ms. Chiaverini has brought her out of the shadows to a wider audience who may be able to make it all the way through this book.  Not recommended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How To Stop Time

Want to know How To Stop Time (#726)?  Tom Hazard, the narrator of Matt Haig's novel of the same name offers a few suggestions.  After all, he's been around for a long time.  A really long time.  Tom has anageria,, a rare condition which slows down the aging process from adolescence on.  For every year that those around him age in normal terms, Tom takes roughly fifteen years to look a year older.

In this engaging novel, Tom switches back and forth in the times, places and relationships he's experienced.  It can be dangerous to appear to never age.  Tom has loved and lost only once so far in his long life.  What keeps him going now is that he has a daughter, Marion, who is like him.  He has not seen her since he left the family in Elizabethan times for their own safety, but he has been searching for her for years.

When the Albatross Society recruits him to protect his secret, its eccentric founder promises Tom to locate Marion.  All he needs to do is perform a task every eight years.  The consequences will be deadly for all who learn his secret.

For those of us who enjoy time travel stories, this is an interesting twist.  Tom Hazard has loved and lost, but he's also worked with William Shakespeare, sailed with Captain Cook and had cocktails with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.  Is the present day the end of the line for him, or will he have a second chance at love?  You'll have to read How To Stop Time to find out.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hardcore Twenty-Four

Snakes, zombies, junk food - what's not to love in Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum, Hardcore Twenty-Four (#725)?  Oh, and did I mention totaling one luxury car after another (on loan from the ever patient Ranger) in various inventive ways?  I think I laughed the loudest at the woodchuck incident...

It's just another typical work day when Stephanie winds up promising to take care of a boa constrictor for one of her apprehended fugitives.  And that was pretty much the highlight of her day with headless corpses in the funeral homes, reports of zombies roaming Trenton, and her grandmother Mazur starting an on-line romance with a George Hamilton look-alike in Florida.  When the mysterious Diesel shows up at her apartment, Stephanie may be forced to give in to temptation; the only question is, with which eligible bachelor?

As always, the Stephanie Plum series is guaranteed to take your mind off your own problems, even if it's only for a few enjoyable hours!