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Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Christmas Escape

What can be more delightful than finding a book you really want to read under your Christmas tree?  That's how I felt about Anne Perry's annual Christmas novella, A Christmas Escape (#539).

This year's story involves a group of British travelers staying together at a guest house on the volcanic island of Stromboli, off the Sicilian coast.  The weather is milder than at home, and Charles Latterly has nothing to keep him in England.  His wife has recently died, but he realizes that there was never any passion in their relationship; in fact, he is not passionate about anything in his life, and he finds this disturbing.  He hopes that a break from his routine will allow him to take stock of his life and perhaps set a new course for himself. 

There is tension in the group already assembled at the remote mountain side compound just before Christmas and not all the guests are pleasant.  With the volcano looming over them spitting out plumes of smoke and ash, things come to a head.  Several will die and Charles' life will be changed forever.

Ms. Perry can pack a lot into a small number of pages.  There is a mystery, a volcanic eruption, soul-searching, loss, and redemption all mixed together here, with salvation for those who survive.  A cracking good story.

Paw and Order

Private investigators Bernie and Chet return in the latest installment of Spencer Quinn's mystery series, Paw and Order (#538), and it may be their best outing yet!

After Bernie and Chet wrap up a case in Bayou country, instead of returning home to Arizona, Bernie impulsively turns their battered Porsche towards Washington, D.C.   He misses Susie Sanchez more than he thought possible since she accepted her dream job as a reporter with The Washington Post.  Why call and spoil the surprise?  But Bernie is the one who is blindsided when Susie's landlady sends him to the carriage house she's renting just in time to see a man emerge.  Susie claims he's just a source for a potential story, but Bernie isn't convinced.  Chet's disappointed, too, because Susie doesn't have a treat ready and waiting for him.  Chet may be a dog, but he's still a total pro, ready to go, and it turns out that they quickly have a case to solve when Bernie is framed for a murder. 

There are the usual Washington power broker types, mysterious government agents, international implications, and campaign skullduggery here.  Chet is busy following his nose  and dealing with a horse (not something he ever wants to do!), a strange bird that keeps bothering Chet, and an elusive guinea pig where there definitely shouldn't be one!  Can Bernie, Chet and Susie solve this one before too many bodies pile up?

Chet's unique narrative style makes this one of the most entertaining series out there, and a real pleasure to read if you like your murder mixed with humor and just plain doggone good storytelling.  Don't miss this series!  (See also my posts of 6/22/15, 2/11/15, 8/29/15 & 8/14/14.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Great Christmas Knit-Off

Looking for the perfect Christmas read?  I know I always am, and I may have found it in Alexandra Brown's The Great Christmas Knit-Off (#538).  What could be better than Christmas in a quaint English village?  Well, a whole lot if you happen to be Sybil.  She's had a very hard year between being left at the altar at her very expensive Star Wars themed wedding (NOT her idea!), and for her identical twin sister, Sasha!  Plus, something has gone horribly wrong at the housing office where she works in London, and 42,000 pounds seem to have been accidentally deposited in a client's account who promptly went on a lavish spending spree with the money.  Could Sybs - possibly? - been responsible for that disaster, too? 

A visit to her best friend Cher in remote Tindledale seems in order, but nothing goes right on her trip.  Until she arrives in Tindledale shortly before Christmas, where she finds others who have problems even bigger than her own.  But Sybil knows that she can help the elderly Hettie save her Haberdashery Shop with her passion for knitting.  As the community comes together to help her and Hettie, she begins to mend that enormous hole in her own heart, and she well and truly finds the place she is meant to be.

This is promised to be the first book in a series about the people who live in the tidy village of Tindledale.  Yes, there's a promising romance, some drama and suspense, and a lot of humor to keep the reader entertained throughout, and even a bonus knitting pattern at the end for those so inclined!
From what I've learned from this first book, I can't wait to find out more about this beguiling cast of characters!  Highly recommended for your Christmas reading pleasure.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Natasha Solomons really had me loving The Song of Hartgrove Hall (#537) right up to the point where Harry Fox-Talbot goes off to Florida searching for his long-lost brother, musical prodigy grandson in tow. The tone of the book went from lyrical descriptions of a decaying English Great House in post World War II England and the music that flowed from its present occupant, a song collector and composer/conductor to a one note parody of the Florida lifestyle.  I'll be the first to admit that comedians would soon run out of topical humor if they ran out of news from Florida, but this is not a satirical novel.  The contrast in writing styles was jarring enough to break the spell Ms. Solomons had cast.  That pause was enough to make me look more closely at the characters that populate this story and realize what a ghastly bunch they were.  I felt as betrayed as a reader as all of the characters in Hartgrove Hall's orbit had been by their friends and relations in oh-so-many ways throughout the plot.  If this hadn't been a Good Reads First Reads giveaway I would have stopped reading right there.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall is told in two alternating timelines: from the day the three Fox-Talbot brothers and their father, the General, arrive at Hartgrove Hall to take back possession of their ancestral home from the occupying forces of the British and Americans who have nearly destroyed it in the process.  Neighbors are demolishing their stately homes because they can no longer afford them, but Jack, George and Harry are determine to keep Hartgrove Hall running despite the General's decision to call in a demolition team.  The sons are given one year to make it a going concern.  Harry must give up his dream of a career in music, but much as he loves Hartgrove Hall he is no farmer.  The arrival of Edie Rose, Jack's girlfriend and a popular singer, changes everything.

In the intertwining timeline set almost fifty years in the future, we know that Harry and Edie are married with daughters and grandchildren.  He is now an elder statesman of the British music scene, and resident of Hartgrove Hall where a prestigious music festival takes place each year. The story tells us snippets of how that came to be, but it is not until near the end of the novel that we learn the unsavory story behind their outer success.  Even Harry will never know the complete truth about his own life.  It's not an edifying picture, nor one that I can find any sympathy for.  By modern mores I suppose that makes me a prude.  So be it.  I will consign this book to the trash heap.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wrath of the Furies

As you can tell from the title of Steven Saylor's latest novel - Wrath of the Furies: A Novel of the Ancient World (#536), this is a dark tale, indeed.  Last year's book - Raiders of the Nile  - about young Gordianus, a Roman living temporarily in Alexandria, was a pretty straight-forward adventure story/mystery.  Wrath of the Furies is about pure evil based on accounts recorded by Roman writers of the time.  The gruesome acts are factual here.

Young Gordianus has been living comfortably in Alexandria since his rescue of his beloved slave Bethesda.  But he is concerned because he has not heard from his father in Rome for some time, nor has he any idea where his tutor, Antipater the poet, has vanished to after he abandoned Gordianus in Alexandria.  They did not part on the best of terms after he discovered his tutor was a spy for King Mithridates, but the day Gordianus receives an anonymous fragment apparently torn from Antipater's own journal hinting of unspeakable danger to himself and all the Romans living in lands conquered by Mithridates is the day that Gordianus determines to go in search of him.  Since it won't be safe for him to travel as a Roman, his friends come up with a scheme for him to travel as a mute seeking a miraculous cure from Artemis's temple in Ephesus, with Bethesda and her foreign accent to serve as his interpreter.  That decision will land Giordianus and all whom he cares about in mortal danger from King Mithridates and all who live in his domains. This time it seems unlikely that Gordianus will make it back to Alexandria alive...

Just who did try to lure Gordianus to Ephesus, and why?  That's the mystery being played out here to a surprising conclusion.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The President's Shadow

I wish Brad Melter's latest novel, The President's Shadow (#535)  had lived up to the first two books in this series about Beecher White, toiling deep in the bowels of Washington D.C.'s National Archive.

Here, Beecher is drawn into the inner circle of the President when an arm is discovered buried in the Rose Garden.  To be in such a secluded and well-guarded spot, whoever did it had to have had inside help.  But who is responsible, and what is the purpose behind it?  With no one else to trust, the President is forced to call in Beecher in his role as head of the Culper Ring, founded by George Washington, and sworn to protect the Presidency.  Beecher himself is reluctant to be distracted from the pursuit of discovering exactly what happened to his father many years ago.  Like the arm, any leads to find out have been buried by nameless parties.  With a promise from the President to aid him in his personal quest, Beecher sets out to discover the perpetrator.

It was an exciting read up to a point, but discovering the truth about what happened to his father in the military wasn't a big enough pay off to warrant all the elaborate contortions the plotter(s)? went through to make the revelation satisfying.  I still don't have a clue as to who, what or why the Knights of the Golden Circle apparently mean so much, other than they were presidential assassins.  But if that's true, why didn't the Knights infiltrated in the Secret Service kill off the presidents they were guarding?  Did they meet some sort of acceptable KGC criteria?  Too many loose ends and unexplained coincidences and hints of betrayal never explained to suit me.  I was disappointed in this one.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Boys in the Boat

Another book that came to me highly recommended by friends, Daniel James Brown's non-fiction saga The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (#534) lived up to its hype, I'm happy to say.  For some reason, it took me a long time to finish reading this book.  Not because I didn't find it interesting, but more, I think, because life kept interrupting.

Before reading this book, all I knew about rowing was from watching collegiate teams rowing on the Charles River in different configurations, and driving past the boathouses (Sorry, but no one I knew ever called these shell houses.) on either side of the river with my parents.  I watched the races during the Summer Olympics, and once or twice caught some of the action at the Head of the Charles Regatta.  I couldn't have told you anything about the skills or finesse required for this sport other than that it looked like hard work to me.  Some have praised The Boys in the Boat with a caveat: that you'll learn more than you have wanted to know about rowing.  I disagree with that opinion.  So few people have actual experience of this type of athletic endeavor that understanding the elements that make up a superior performance in the sport is essential: build, muscles, conditioning, brains and brawn for starters, and the technical skills that go into the building of a racing shell and plying its oars are only the beginning.  The art of racing here is between the athlete's ears, and it must be done in conjunction and in perfect union with his or her entire crew.  Nowhere else is the quote "There is no "I" in TEAM" more applicable.  So sue me.  I found it all fascinating. Imagine my surprise at Thanksgiving to find that we have a promising budding rower in our own family!

And that is only one aspect of this remarkable story.  Just who made up this University of Washington crew and how they became America's Olympic team, out-powering their Cal State rivals and elite Eastern rowing teams is astonishing.  The US Olympic Establishment tried to block them, but the Huskies, as in facing and overcoming other obstacles, found a way to claim that berth. 

Juxtaposed against this story of nine rugged individuals, their coaches and their British-born shell builder, is the story of the propaganda coup the Germans were waging for the world's regard in staging a spectacular Olympic Games, the like of which had never been seen before.  I would love to someday see German film maker Leni Riefenstahl's epic movie Olympia some day.  Although she was working for Adolf Hitler, the film includes extensive footage of the American victory in eight man crew.

The photos included in The Boys in the Boat make the people and places in this story come alive.  Thanks, Daniel James Brown, for making them live again in our minds.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Orphan #8

I read Kim van Alkemade's novel Orphan #8 (#533) on the recommendation of friends.  Obviously, they saw something in this book that I didn't.  I found it dreary and depressing, with no moral payoff at the end.

It's the story of Rachel Rabinowitz, orphaned along with her older brother in the early years of the twentieth century.  She and her brother are placed in separate Jewish orphanages where she becomes the medical guinea pig for an ambitious and unscrupulous medical resident, resulting in permanently damaged health and disfigurement.  Rachel doesn't realize that she was never sick, but the object of experimentation until many years later when she has become a nurse herself.  One night in the  Jewish old folks' home in New York City where she works that same doctor becomes her patient.  What will she do?  Will Rachel seek revenge?  Or can she rise above it?  The answer is neither, really.  Meh.

Ms. van Alkemade has researched the background of her story to make it feel authentic, but I could never warm up to any of the characters.  I really didn't care what happened to Rachel because I found her unpleasant on so many levels.  Of course, that's just me, and the critics seem to have loved this book.  You'll just have to judge for yourself.  I'm sorry I spent the time on this book and not on something more edifying.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

An Infamous Army

Georgette Heyer is the doyenne of Regency romances.  An Infamous Army - A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo (#532) is exactly that; a strange amalgam of an unlikely romance carried out in the ballrooms and fashionable riding paths of Brussels as the British and their Allies gather to take a stand against Napoleon and his army at Waterloo.

The reader who picks up this book for the romance will find a difficult and often unlikeable heroine in Lady Barbara Child. Sir Charles Audley, a member of Wellington's staff who falls instantly head-over-heels in love with her, seems much too good for her for most of the book.  But frankly, I felt the romance was an afterthought here. 

Ms. Heyer's real intent was to write a serious novel about the Battle of Waterloo, and in this she succeeded.  The book runs to almost 500 pages, and the majority of her writing covers the build up to the confrontation between Wellington and Bonaparte.  The lists of regiments, brigades, supplies and emplacements around the countryside will daunt all but the most determined romance reader.  I know this is the one Georgette Heyer book that my mother was never able to make it through, although she tried several times.  I picked this up to read this year precisely because of the Waterloo anniversary and I still found it hard going at times.  I often wished that there were maps to accompany the military sections to help me visualize ground I've never seen even in photos.

One thing I did find curious about this book: Napoleon Bonaparte is barely mentioned.  Wellington is the real hero here, but the French Emperor exists only as a shadow figure.  Appalling loss of life on both sides, and it's never really clear to me what was at stake here other than national pride.

The best I can say is that this is the last Georgette Heyer book on my "To Read" list, and I can now cross it off.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain

I thoroughly enjoyed Jade Dragon Mountain (#531), Elsa Hart's debut historical fiction mystery.  Li Du has been exiled by the Emperor of China from his post as a librarian in Beijing.  He has wandered for ten years, and is now in the remote southeastern province of Yunnan.  He is making for Dayan, its capital, to seek permission from his cousin Tulishen, the governor there, to leave China for good when he is caught up in the excitement swirling all around Dayan.  The Emperor is soon to arrive and preside over a total eclipse of the sun.  His cousin is counting on advancing his career by making a strong impression with the planned celebrations, but the sudden death of an elderly Jesuit astronomer during the festivities leading up to the main event creates a complication.  Tulishen wishes it could be swept under the rug, but he finds himself obliged to charge Li Du with investigating the death.  When it turns out to be murder, Li Du must find the killer before the arrival of the Emperor, or suffer the consequences.

An unusual place and time for setting this mystery, China in the late 1700s is still not open to most Westerners.  The politics of economics play a role here, as well as a cast of interesting suspects.  Li Du's methods are not conventional, but that is a large part of the appeal of this story and its exotic setting.  I hope we see further adventures from Li Du in the future!

Vienna Nocturne

I brought Vienna Nocturne (#530) by Vivien Shotwell with me to read since we would be visiting Vienna on our trip.  It came out in 2014, and involves an affair between Wolfgang Mozart and an English-born soprano, Anna Storace at the court of the Emperor Francis in Vienna.  It certainly isn't a weighty tome, but if you're a tourist in Austria, you cannot escape Mozart, so why not wallow a bit in some romantic fluff?

A friend of mine read this book when it first came out, and immediately proceeded to tell me every fact the author got wrong or changed in this story, but told me that I would like it anyway.  I wasn't sure whether or not to be insulted by that, but the book, is after all, fiction, so if it makes a stronger story, I say go for it.  If you want just the facts, ma'am, read non-fiction!

In the event, I was mostly annoyed by Anna Storace, who apparently threw away a promising career by lusting after the wrong guy until saintly Mozart appeared on the scene and showed Anna just what true love really was.  (Too late for it to do any good for anyone!)

A Mozart bon-bon of a book, so have some of those marzipan delights on hand when you settle down for a romantic read.

The Secret Chord

I haven't had access to the internet, nor the time recently to rack up those pages read while sailing through the heart of Europe.  I did, however, have some good company along for the ride!

Geraldine Brooks' latest novel, The Secret Chord (#529), is the story of King David, told through the eyes of the prophet Nathan, his close companion.  The picture that emerges is not necessarily pretty, but it is compelling, warts and all.  Brooks has laid flesh on the bare bones tale taken from the Bible, but she hasn't hesitated to put a different spin on the events recorded there.  Bathsheba's story, for instance, takes on an entirely new perspective here. 

It's often violent and bloody.  There's much to admire in David, but his faults and flaws make him believably human.  I must admit that I was glad that I had recently read the David story in Kings and Chronicles, and you might find that useful as well.  It helped me put events in the proper context.  Ms. Brooks also used alternatives spellings for people and places than we are used to from the Bible, so sometimes it was a challenge pinning down just who or where she was talking about.

If you're already a fan of Geraldine Brooks, you know the magic she is capable of weaving in her books.  I don't think you'll be disappointed here, especially if she makes you think about things differently than you've always accepted.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Free Fall

Free Fall (#528) is one of Robert Crais' earlier Elvis Cole mysteries.  Even though the language is a bit dated, the story most definitely is not.  I have to admit, though, that my image of mostly silent Joe Pike as Elvis' man of action partner has morphed into John Reese on Person of Interest (without Joe's distinctive shoulder tattoos, of course).  The plot is just as twisted, the threats are real, and the humor is just as tantalizing.

Elvis thinks he has an easy case for a change when an innocent young thing comes into to his office and announces that her policeman boyfriend is in some kind of trouble.  He won't tell her what's wrong, so she asks Elvis to investigate.  Not ten minutes later, Mark Dunham and his partner show up on Elvis' door, telling him it's a personal matter, and to drop the investigation.  Could anything be more likely to absolutely guarantee Elvis' interest, if not this?  What Cole and Pike uncover is a rats' nest of dirty cops, gangs and drugs.  And somehow everyone involved in the case has a target painted on their back...

Since there are later entries in this entertaining mystery series, you know Elvis Cole and Joe Pike will find a way to survive, and even in assure that justice is done.  It's a fun trip.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

East of the Mountains

David Guterson's novel East of the Mountains (#527) is just not my kind of book.  Others in my book club have raved about it, and I do have to admire Mr. Guterson's talent as a writer.  He just doesn't tell a tale I'm interested in reading.  Why this should be so, I don't know.

Ben Givens is a retired cardiac surgeon, a widower, who has been diagnosed with colon cancer.  Rather than sit around and endure the months of suffering he knows it will bring, he arranges to go on a hunting trip.  What his family does not know is that he intends to die on this trip in a "hunting accident".  If his body is never found, so much the better; his daughter and her family will never know about the cancer.  Things happen to Ben on his journey, and his life's story is told through flashbacks.  The Washington state landscape plays a major role in this picaresque tale.

The problem was, I never liked Ben, nor felt any particular sympathy towards his attitudes about life and relationships.  He brought his two hunting dogs with him without any apparent thought as to what would happen to them out in the wild uninhabited countryside after he died .  They seemed to be just a prop for him, until he was directly responsible for death of his old, devoted dog, and the severe injury to his young hound.  Nor did he seem to care what effect his sudden death would have on his daughter and grandson.  They would just have to deal with the neatly tied-up situation after he was gone.  Gone where?  He doesn't know, nor seem to be particularly exercised about that.  The only thing that seems to matter to Ben at this stage is his deceased wife Rachel.   And even there, he is planning a betrayal in what they promised each other after death.  He's been given a death sentence by the doctor, and Ben's response is to go on a killing spree of small birds.  I just couldn't relate to that, nor the lack of a spiritual dimension.  Why hasten the end if that's all there is?

Anyway, some of the descriptions of the Washington landscape are quite beautiful and lyrical, but on the whole, this story left me flat and unsatisfied.  I didn't really care at the end that he decides to go home.  At least Rex will get to sleep in the house from here on.  Just my opinion.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Theodore Roosevelt's great great grandson illuminates a less than admirable episode of American history in his novel Allegiance (#526).  Cash Harrison, the privileged scion of a leading Philadelphia family, is finishing up at Columbia Law School when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.  Along with the rest of his classmates, Cash is gung-ho to enlist, only to fail his physical.  Instead of going off to war, he is offered a position clerking for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, which he somewhat reluctantly accepts. 

Once Cash arrives at Court and begins to settle in, he senses that things are going on all around him below the surface, but he cannot make out exactly what is happening.  One of the other clerks takes Cash under his wing after Cash is followed and his apartment broken into.  Gene Gressman is convinced that any tampering has to do with boring commercial cases - a classic "Follow the money" assumption, while Cash thinks it might be War or Justice Department interference with Japanese detention and renunciation programs. When he and Gene seem to begin unraveling some of the threads influencing the outcome of certain cases, Gene dies under mysterious circumstances.   With his investigation going nowhere, Cash's clerkship year is up, and he transfers to the Justice Department.  Here again, some puppet master seems to be pulling the strings behind Japanese citizenship and detention cases.  The more Cash pokes into the tangled web, the more uncomfortable he finds himself with the Government's position.  Things reach a head when agents of the mysterious puppet master attempt to kill Cash at the Tule Lake Detention Camp, and he must finally take a moral stand for what he believes to be justice.

This is not exactly an action novel.  It's told from the perspective of law, government policy and the manipulation of both by greedy and unscrupulous men with no regard for the consequences to others except for how the outcome will benefit them.  Here are many of the familiar names of the time: Franklin Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, Justice Felix Frankfurter and Francis Biddle, portrayed in a way that sheds new light on their actions (or inactions!).  If you are not "One of Us", you are the enemy, and that enemy does not turn out to be who Cash thinks it is at all.  The pacing of this novel is ponderous, but it's still worth taking the time to read about one aspect of what was happening on the homefront during World War II. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

And now for something completely different...  Thaniel Steepleton as part of his duties as a London Home Office telegraphist learns one day of an impending bombing by a militant Irish group.  That same day, he comes home to find that his room has been broken into, but nothing has been taken.  In fact, whoever it was has left Thaniel an elaborate pocket watch.  He has no idea who could have left him such a valuable present, but it isn't until the day of the threatened bombing arrives and the watch saves his life that Thaniel's search for its maker becomes urgent.  That's the premise of debut novelist Natasha Pulley's novel The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (#525).

If you've never ventured into the steampunk genre, this novel would be an excellent starting place.  Thaniel at first glance is a typical government bureaucrat in Victorian London, but his interactions with Keita Mori, the Japanese watchmaker who can remember the future, reveal that there is much more to Thaniel than meets the eye.  Grace Carrow, in the meantime, is facing her own problems pursuing physics at Oxford.  It isn't acceptable for a woman to even use the libraries there for her research.  Grace has her own way around that problem by borrowing men's clothes from her fellow Japanese student and fashion plate.  The Japanese are very much in vogue in Britain (think Gilbert & Sullivan!), and many forward-thinking Japanese are making the most of their Western connections, much to the dismay of the traditionalists among them.  It's a mixture ripe for revolution on two continents, and the politics play a definite role in unfolding events in London. 

Some of the clockwork creations described in this novel are so unique and interesting, I found myself wishing that some of them were real.  Katsu, a clockwork octopus of all things, sounds like an ideal pet; companionship without the fuss of feeding or walking it, and the endless pleasure of never knowing quite what it will do next, if you don't mind the odd missing sock or shiny bauble.  Natasha Pulley has successfully created her own world in this novel filled with unexpected twists and turns.  I can't wait to see where she is going to take us next.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Palace of Treason

Jason Matthews returns to the entangled lives of Nate Nash, CIA handler, and Dominika Egorova, his SVR agent Russian asset, in Palace of Treason (#524) after their stunning debut in the espionage novel Red Sparrow (See my post of 8/21/15.).  Mr. Matthews certainly ought to know the field, after his years serving in the CIA, so the descriptions and operations he describes feel all too real.

Palace of Treason deals with a particularly relevant topic.  Dominika has resurfaced in Moscow after a lengthy period not communicating with her CIA handlers after a messy prisoner swap on a lonely Estonian bridge.  She loves Russia, but not the men who run her, especially the Chief of the KR line of Russian Counterintelligence and coincidentally her boss, Zyuganov.  He's already tried several times to have her killed, but when she successfully turns an Iranian asset, she learns that he holds the secret to speeding up uranium enrichment for building a nuclear weapon. Egorova knows it's time to reactivate her channel to the CIA.  Her achievements have brought Dominika to Putin's attention, placing her in an ideal position to gather intel.  In the meantime, a highly-placed Ameican is turning sensitive and highly classified materials over to the Russians. Unless the Americans can identify their own mole before the Russians turn him over to an illegal handler, he or she will disappear.  It becomes a matter of life and death for Dominika when she discovers that the American spy is going to turn over the name of a mole working inside Russia.

It's riveting reading, but don't attempt this one without having read Red Sparrow first.  (Despite the recipes included at the end of each chapter, this book might not be suitable reading during meal time for those with sensitive stomachs!)  Best of all, Mr. Matthews has left the door open at the end of Palace of Treason for yet another appearance of  these spy craft practitioners.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who Let the Dog Out?

David Rosenfelt"s latest Andy Carpenter mystery Who Let the Dog Out? (#523) goes beyond a simple whodunit?   Of course there's a dog: in this case Cheyenne is a shepherd mix who's dognapped from the Tara Foundation Shelter.  Since Andy and his partner Willie have attached GPS units to all their dogs' collars, it seems a simple matter to track Cheyenne's current location via the chip.  They had called in their friend Pete Stanton from the police to lend some legal backing in case there's a problem reclaiming the dog from her abductor.  It's a good thing Pete is there when Andy discovers Cheyenne sitting beside a gruesomely murdered body.

The questions come thick and fast, and before Andy knows it, he finds himself with a new client - Tom Infante.  The police have found a knife buried in his backyard, but Infante insists he didn't murder the victim.  If he didn't, who did?  And why had Gerald Downey kidnapped Cheyenne just before his brutal murder?  When Andy learns who Cheyenne's real owner is, the case suddenly gets a lot more interesting.

Rosenfelt's plotting, and the humorous interplay among his established characters are a pleasure to read. Not to mention the dogs!   I devoured this one in one sitting.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Other Daughter

Oh, if only every book I pick up was such a pleasure to read!  Lauren Willig's stand alone novel The Other Daughter (#522) is the perfect blend of romance, deception and lurid secrets in 1920s London society.

Fancy finding out that your father, whom you had been told died on a botany expedition when you were only four, is suddenly revealed to be very much alive, and an earl, to boot!  Rachel Woodley has suffered a series of losses in a matter of days: her mother, her post as governess to a wealthy French family, and her home.  Could it possibly be that she might regain her beloved Papa?  Or has Lady Olivia Standish, his other daughter pictured with the Earl in a current issue of The Tatler, replaced Rachel and her mother in his affections?  Rachel is determined to find out on her own terms with the help of fashionable gossip columnist Simon Montfort.  It's a business arrangement: her exclusive story for his help in mingling with London's Bright Young Things.  So why don't things work out that way?

Loved it from beginning to end.  Ms. Willig saves an especially good twist for the end of this story.  If all romances were written at this level, I would be reading many more of them.  It's so rare to find a good story in what passes for romance these days.  And best of all, this is a book you can comfortably share with your mother and grandmother, too!  Can't wait for her next venture.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Nightingale

Back to fictional France again with Kristin Hannah's World War II novel, The Nightingale (#521).  This woman sure can tell a story.  No wonder my sister-in-law couldn't put this book down while she was visiting this spring!

It's the tale of two sisters, Isabelle and Viane, whose lives are changed forever by the war.  Isabelle, the impulsive one, becomes a member of the Resistance.  Viane's husband is called up to join the French Army and she remains at home in their small country town with her daughter, Sophie.  On the surface, it would appear that Isabelle's choice would be more noble and fraught with danger, but reading about what Viane must endure on a daily basis makes it obvious that life in occupied France was no picnic for anyone - that the possibility of betrayal and death might have been even higher where everyone knows you and your business.

The story is told mostly in the 1930s and 40s, but there are sections from 1995 which make it obvious that someone in the tale has survived and lived in America for many years with her secrets from the war.  It is not apparent until the very end of the story just who this character is, which adds another element to this multi-layered tale.

This book might not have the elegant language and poignant images evoked in Anthony Doerr's wonderful All The Light We Cannot See (See my post of 4/6/15.), but it has such a powerful narrative that the reader is totally immersed in the action.  It's not a pretty tale, but then, neither is war.  This is such a compelling read it well deserves its longtime place on the Best Sellers List.  Don't miss it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Storm of the Century

I have to tell you that Al Roker's new non-fiction book, The Storm of the Century (#520) about the 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, is not the most comforting reading when you are sitting in the cone of probability for a hurricane sweeping towards you across the Caribbean, and watching the news coverage of the ten year anniversary for Hurricane Katrina!  It is a fascinating read, though.

I was not aware of the Galveston hurricane until I actually visited that city a number of years ago for a conference.  We did see some displays about the disaster around town, but sitting across the street from the calm Gulf waters, watching the dolphins frolic just offshore, and our waiter dancing the Macarena on a nearby table, it was as hard for us to imagine deadly peril coming from that direction as it was for the Galvestonians living in their progressive, bustling city in 1900.  The head of the US Weather Bureau, and their local well-respected meteorologist Isaac Cline told the citizens of this Texas town that a hurricane strike on Galveston was impossible.  Professional hubris played a large role in the tragedy that ensued.  No evacuations took place because it couldn't happen there.  As a result, 10,000 or more people died, but no one can actually say for sure what the toll was on lives or property.

Mr. Roker makes the tales of those who witnessed the force of this hurricane personal and anecdotal.  The accounts of the survivors, and of those first on the scene afterwards are so horrific it seems a miracle anyone or anything in Galveston made it through that storm.  Those who did not only survived, but they reclaimed their city in a way that seems almost miraculous today.  Reading this account, it made me wonder if the collective will would exist in America today to achieve what the people of Galveston did in the aftermath with the backing of the entire United States.  I would like to think so, but...

I would highly recommend this account of a natural disaster that is probably unknown to most Americans today.  My only quibble, and it may very well be because I had a pre-publication copy, was the lack of photographs, which I think would have substantially enhanced the narrative.  Once the book is published in September, I will make it my business to find a copy and see if maps and photos are included. In the meantime, kudos, Mr. Roker.

One Way Or Another

Elizabeth Adler's latest, One Way Or Another (#519) is a classic, old-fashioned suspense novel told from several points of view.  It mixes a damsel in distress with a young, handsome hero, an isolated and fearsome house on the marshes, and an unscrupulous villain of unimaginable wealth.  The difference here is that Ms. Adler has tweaked the formula so that events don't fall out the way the reader necessarily expects.

Marco Polo Mahoney, a successful portrait artist, is enjoying the last few hours of a needed break in his schedule drinking at the friendly neighborhood bar at his vacation hideaway on the Turkish coast. He notices a huge sleek yacht motoring out of the harbor. As he watches it, a young woman with a cloud of wavy red hair runs onto the deck.  He can clearly see the wound on the side of her head before she falls overboard.  As the ship continues to sail away, Marco launches his rubber dinghy from the beach in an attempt to find the young woman.  She never surfaces, but Marco becomes obsessed with the incident.  His girlfriend Martha Patron wants to believe him, but no one else saw anything unusual. 

Meanwhile, the young woman has survived, but Angie certainly hasn't been rescued.  In fact, now Marco and Martha too are all pulled into a web of deceit and danger as the master spider pulls the threads.  Can it end well for anyone?

I remember growing up reading suspense novels like this and loving them.  It's always gratifying to come across a writer who can deliver that familiar and satisfying type of escapist reading.  Thank you, Ms. Adler!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Red Sparrow

Friends of mine strongly recommended Red Sparrow (#518), an espionage thriller by Jason Matthews.  This is not a sleek and glamorous portrayal of the world of spies, a la James Bond, but a gritty and gripping read which leaves the reader feeling that Red Sparrow is the real world of today's spy craft.  Since the author retired after more than thirty years in the CIA, it's no wonder it feels authentic. 

Dominika Egorova is a promising young ballerina, destined for spot in the Bolshoi Ballet when her career is sabotaged.  Her uncle Vanya takes advantage of the double blow to Dominika at her father's funeral to recruit her for a clandestine assignment.  Things don't go well, but she does wind up in the elite training academy for Russian spies, an almost exclusively male preserve.  Her uncle once again intervenes in her life, forcing her to attend the infamous sexpionage "Sparrow School".  Determined to overcome this humiliation, Dominika becomes a single-minded Russian agent.  Her assignment will be to seduce the identity of a high-ranking Russian mole from the young American CIA Case Officer, Nate Nash, who is his (or her!) handler.  Once the information is obtained, Vanya Egorov will claim the credit and advance his position with Putin.  Naturally, things do not go as planned for either the Americans or the Russians with twist on twist in the devious game they are playing.

I did stay up late several nights reading Red Sparrow, and I can't wait to read the continuance of Dominika and Nate's story in Palace of Treason, which I'm told is even better than Red Sparrow.  The sense of menace is palpable throughout the book, and I appreciated author Doug Stanton's cover blurb when he says: "Halfway through, I was afraid Vladimir Putin would find out I was reading Red Sparrow and have me arrested."  I also, based on personal experience, agree with Matthews' view of the FBI.  They don't come off very well here.

Once of the quirky but interesting features of this spy novel is the fact that Jason Matthews ends each chapter with a recipe for a dish the characters ate during the preceding pages. You'll have to guess at quantities here, but some of the recipes sound absolutely delicious.  My husband would certainly like to try one or two of them!  Not for the faint of heart, but highly recommended.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lord of the Wings

Donna Andrews continues to effectively combine humor and mystery in her bird-theme-titled books.  Lord of the Wings (#517) is the latest, and this one features a brand-new Halloween Festival in the small Virginia college town of Caerphilly.  For once, Meg Langslow is not the Volunteer-in-Chief for the Festival, but with the full-time assistant Mayor Shiffley has hired to handle things, Meg finds herself wishing she was in charge, especially when Lydia Van Meter goes missing at the height of the festivities.  Since two bodies have already turned up in Caerphilly with links to the Festival, is Lydia the perpetrator, or perhaps yet another victim?

Donna Andrews really goes to town with this story, with all the characters in costume, and Meg's grandfather pitching in with a special exhibit at his zoo: Creatures of the Night.  Plenty of heavy metal here, and not just Meg's hand-wrought iron pieces.  As head of the volunteer Goblin Patrol, her strength from her blacksmithing business will come in handy dealing with the holiday mayhem.  When Dr. Smoot's Museum in the Haunted House is broken into, what are the thieves really after in a seemingly random collection from people's attics?

All will be revealed by the end of this mystery in a most amusing and satisfying manner.  If you haven't read any of Donna Andrew's books yet, this one is a good place to start and is guaranteed to put you into a holiday mood.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Tournament

The Tournament (#516) is a real departure for thriller author Matthew Reilly.  Here, he's turned his hand to a mystery featuring the young Princess Elizabeth Tudor and her renowned teacher Roger Ascham as the sleuths for murders committed at the Court of Suleiman the Magnificent during an invitation-only Chess Tournament.    Elizabeth learns valuable lessons in both statecraft and life.

I don't know much about chess, but Reilly includes enough background in his chapter introductions to give the ignorant reader a clue about what's happening during the matches.  (I'm not a card player, either, so all those tense shots around the poker table in movies or TV are totally wasted on me!)  The setting in Constantinople at the height of its glory during the Ottoman Empire is an interesting choice for placing Elizabeth Tudor, and although the tournament itself is fiction, the author provides a plausible reason and circumstances for Elizabeth to keep this journey clandestine until she finally reveals the details on her deathbed to her lifelong friend and companion.

This exotic setting also provides Reilly a chance to indulge his harem fantasies.  Who does Elizabeth travel with?  Her esteemed teacher, Roger Ascham, Gilbert Giles, England's chosen chess champion, the Primroses, her proper chaperones who are taken out of the action early on, and Elsie, her slutty friend.  Elsie is the character the reviewers mean when they tag this book with the adjective "lusty".  Personally, I could have done without her, but since his previous best sellers have been relatively chaste, I suppose this was a chance for Reilly to cut loose and write about sex.  Oh, and to give Elsie her due, she does provide one clue to solving the series of murders, and she returns to England a sadder but wiser "English Rose".

Overall, an entertaining read, and a genre I hope Matthew Reilly returns to in the future.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Rival Queens

Back to France for the double biographies of Catherine de' Medici and her daughter, Marguerite de Valois in Nancy Goldstones' eminently readable The Rival Queens (#515).  If you love reading about dysfunctional families, the Valois dynasty has it all: murder, betrayal, flagrant affairs - and just to throw some additional spice into the mix -  religious wars.  Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Catherine de' Medici always shows up as the ultimate villainess in historical fiction with her control of the government, St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and gifts of poisoned gloves.  The poisoned gloves are probably just rumor laid at her feet, but the rest is only too real, but after reading about her early life as a poor relative of the powerful de' Medici family, you'll certainly have a better idea of why she became to the person she did.  And her upbringing was so much easier than her husband's, Henri II of France! 

Their daughter Marguerite, one of the great beauties of her age, had no fond memories of her mother, unlike her affection for her father.  It would be hard to forgive someone who forces you into a marriage that almost no once else in the kingdom of France favors, the Huguenot Henry of Navarre, when you are staunchly Catholic (and to have your wedding marked by a massacre!) only to be told a few months later that you should now divorce said husband to further the political ambitions of your mother and brother.  And that was only the beginning of openly hostile family relations.  Marguerite was loyal and shrewd enough to survive many attempts on her life until her star once again ascended after the rest of her family had died.  She was reconciled to the new sovereign of France at that time, and revered at the end of her life for her generosity to others.

When the two queens died, one was refused burial in the ancient and traditional royal site of St. Denis, the other greatly and publicly mourned by the French people.  I'll leave you to guess which was which.   A fascinating glimpse into the past and highly recommended.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


I think Matthew Reilly's action thrillers are addictive.  Even though my book club friends wouldn't even listen to my recommendation of his recent book, The Great Zoo of China (See my posts of 3/21/15 & 4/10/15.) once they heard the word dragon, they missed a vastly entertaining novel.  Contest (#513) is the book that began it all.  Hard to believe that Reilly had to self-publish the original book.  Now that he's been "discovered" the copy in my library is his slightly rewritten version, with all the action taking place in the New York Public Library.  Since he wanted to make the book more authentic for American readers, he substituted a real New York landmark for the original fictional library building.  My only nitpick is that I wish that while he was at it, he had cleaned up the stray Australian/British English usage that occasionally pop up: bonnet for car hood, coronial instead of Medical Examiner, exclusive and expensive public school for private academy, etc.  Now I'm done, and on to the good stuff.

Imagine a gladiatorial contest in which there are seven combatants.  Only one contestant will survive to leave the labyrinth where the action takes place.  In this case, it's the New York Public Library.  Stephen Swain, a New York based radiologist, suddenly finds himself within the confines of the Library, hugging his seven year old daughter Holly.  He has no idea how they got there, but he soon learns that he must keep himself and Holly alive in order to escape.  When he finds out just who it is he is pitted against in this uneven contest he must struggle to keep his wits about him and against all odds, find a way out.

The plot of this novel is absolutely absurd and entirely engrossing.  If they ever made a film version of this book, the movie goer would never be able to relax, even for a moment!  That's the author's intent: non-stop action, and does he ever succeed!  Need something to totally take you away from your own problems?  Any of Matthew Reilly's books could be just the ticket.  Can't wait to see what he does with a young Tudor Princess Elizabeth invited to Turkey to participate in a contest of chess masters in Tournament!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Stranger

Harlan Coben has proved once again you don't need high tech gadgets, spectacular car chases or exotic locales to create a page-turning thriller.  In The Stranger (#512), Adam Price's secure life in suburbia complete with a house, a wife and two boys is sent spinning into oblivion when a stranger sidles up to him at a lacrosse parents' meeting.  He tells Adam that his wife Corinne has kept a secret from him.  And if Adam doesn't believe him, the stranger tells him where to look to begin unraveling the lie.  Adam can't believe what he's told, but still...  By the time Adam discovers the truth, his life will be changed forever.

Coben is such a skillful storyteller that the plot will keep you glued to the page to find out what happens next long beyond your bedtime.  Clear a good block of time to read this one because you won't want to put it down!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fair Play's a Jewel

In the latest entry in Robert Bruce Stewart's Harry Reese Mystery series, Fair Play's A Jewel (#511) could the bloom be off Harry and Emmie Reese's marriage?  Harry certainly wonders when he accidentally finds out that his wife is planning to be away on a mysterious trip of her own while he is supposed to be investigating a missing persons insurance claim in Ohio.  When that trip is cancelled, Harry decides to accompany Emmie to Portland, Maine.  It's obvious she doesn't want him along, but for once, Emmie has outsmarted herself, and Harry picks up an arson case involving a newly constructed hotel near Portland.

None of the characters involved in this case appear to be who they claim to be.  Even Emmie has booked herself into the Sea Cliff Hotel under her nom de plume M.D. Meegs with a separate room from Harry's!  There's the pirate publisher of Portland whom she has persuaded to hide out at the Sea Cliff  under an assumed name after attempts have been made on his life.  (She's investigating these, of course!)  Or the noted British poet and his wife, the Fields.  Mr. Fields is a magnet for every female of a certain age in the vicinity, but his wife, Delia, is the one on the prowl here, and she doesn't much care who falls into her trap, as long as she has someone to fondle.  Luckily for most of the guests at the Sea Cliff, her extraordinary command of 17th century English cant goes right over her auditors' heads, sparing their blushes because they don't understand a word of it.  (Fortunately Mr. Stewart provides a glossary for readers who don't want to miss out on any of the naughty fun!)  Delia seems to be at odds with Fiona Macleod, another poetess staying at the hotel.  Then there's a Portland journalist who isn't above fleecing an unsuspecting victim, the local constable who's sweet on her and not the hayseed he first appears and finally, the Deputy Sheriff publicly enforcing the liquor ban, but privately enjoying the liquid hospitality at the Sea Cliff.  Ed Ketchum, with whom Harry has worked before, specially requested him on this arson case because he wants to consult Harry about his marital woes.  Can Harry help Ed reignite the spark of their marriage, and considering Annie's past, does Harry want to? 

When a young woman is found dead in the Field's sitting room, could it possibly have any connection to the case of the hotel under construction down the road which burned to the ground shortly before it was due to open?  Who would benefit?  And why did Emmie set off for Portland on her own?  Will Harry ever have a clue about what makes Emmie tick?  You'll find the answers to these and other questions you didn't even know you had in Fair Play's a Jewel.

I love it when a book I'm reading dangles a tantalizing fact, person, place or event in front of me.  Next thing you know, I'm off on a hunt for new information.  That happened to me twice with Fair Play's a Jewel.  (See my posts of Always a Cold Deck & Humbug on the Hudson 1/27/14, Crossings 10/28/13, Kalorama Shakedown 10/8/13, and A Charm of Powerful Trouble 5/17/14.)  When Harry and Emmie have an overnight stopover in Boston, they go to see the musical Peggy Goes to Paris, which had they but known, was a foreshadowing of what they would encounter in Portland.  I had to follow up on that musical, and through it was introduced to George Ade, a noted Indiana figure who made a fortune through his writing and endowed Purdue, his alma mater, with its football stadium.  I also discovered Lord Timothy Dexter, author of A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, and famous for being eccentric.  I suppose you could almost think of him as the Kardashian of his day.  The only thing that disappointed me in this list of dubious characters was Thomas Mosher, the pirate publisher of Portland (No book without an American copyright is safe from his presses!).  Not once does he appear in this novel with an eye patch or a peg leg.  Well, you can't have everything, I suppose.  Maybe next time...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Ides of April

If you're a fan of Lindsey Davis' popular Marcus Didius Falco Roman mystery series, you've already met Flavia Albia, the heroine of her latest Roman mystery: The Ides of April (#510).  Even though Flavia was adopted by Falco and his patrician wife Helena while on an investigation in Roman Londinium, she's a chip off the old Falco block.  In fact, now that Marcus Didius has taken over his Pa's old antiques and auction business, Flavia has taken up where he left off as an inquiry agent, even moving into the old family digs in Fountain Court.  Flavia is no dewy innocent bud, though; she's been around the block a time or two.  At twenty eight, she's been a widow for ten years and is used to coping on her own.  As a woman, though, she rarely gets the really profitable jobs. 

Case in point, she's been hired by the family of a toddler killed in a hit and run accident to seek damages against the wealthy construction company owner.  She knows she'll inevitably lose the case and along with it, the fee (Win or nothing!) but after all, a child has been killed and she does have a conscience.  As she pursues the case she encounters a number of unexpected and unexplained deaths.  She can't help but be suspicious when the authorities try to prevent her from investigating these seemingly unconnected cases.  Now Flavia's gotten her teeth into something worth investigating, as long as it doesn't prove to be the death of her...

Flavia is as cheeky a character as her adoptive father and the mystery just as good here with its multiple red herrings, humor and -  could it be? - hint of future romance.  Falco has always been one of my favorite gumshoes, but after reading The Ides of April, all I can say is Ave, Flavia!

The Rug Merchant

The Rug Merchant (#509) is not your typical love story.  Meg Mullins' protagonist Ushman is an Iranian come to New York to make his fortune in the rug business after the Islamic Revolution and a devastating earthquake have put his family's rug workshops out of business.  He is beginning to make a success of things, but his wife Farak steadfastly refuses to leave his invalid mother behind in Iran and join him in New York.  His unremitting loneliness leads this otherwise decent man down paths where he otherwise would never stray.  A chance meeting at an airport results in a new relationship and a deeper understanding of himself. 

You can't help but root for Ushman when he suffers from one betrayal after another, but you know there's not going to be a happy ending here.  The tragedy is that his life goes on quietly as ever and nothing much has changed but his trust in others. 

An interesting perspective on an outsider longing to be on the winning side of the American dream.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

Candice Millard's gripping account of Theodore Roosevelt's journey through previously unexplored Brazilian territory, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey (#508) came to my notice in a decidedly unusual fashion.  My husband and I had attended a concert given by the Atlantic Classical Orchestra this season.  One of the hallmarks of this excellent orchestra is the commissioning of new works.  One of these works by Patrick Harlin was the composition River of Doubt, based on the book by Candice Millard.  (Follow the link to read & hear more about the piece:  River of Doubt Music. ) We thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but I determined that at some point I had to read the book that inspired the music, especially since I had devoured her work on James Garfield, Destiny of the Republic.  (See my post of 1/5/13.)

The River of Doubt lived up to its promise.  After Theodore Roosevelt fails to win a third term as President as the candidate of the Progressive "Bull Moose" Party, he is bored and stung by the public's failure to vote for him.  At a loose end, he is invited to take part in an expedition to South America, which will combine a speaking and diplomatic tour with a trip down several mapped rivers.  Somehow, the trips morphs into an exploration of unknown territory with a respected Brazilian, Candido Rondon, as co-leader.  To say that the trip was under planned, poorly provisioned and miraculous in that any of those who set out on the journey made it back to civilization is to understate the wretchedness of the entire enterprise.

If you've ever watched one of those horror movies when you just know that opening that door or climbing those stairs will end in disaster, you will have a very good idea of what it was like to follow the progress of the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition.  "No, no!  Stop!" kept running through my mind reading about the men planning and executing this disastrous trip.  What were they thinking?  Rondon was willing to sacrifice the lives of everyone to map the River of Doubt, but if they all died in the process, what good would that do?  Loss of equipment, starvation, hostile Indians and a murderer amongst them soon changed Roosevelt's attitude about the journey.  But once launched, there was no way to go but forward.  Yet most of them did come back alive from this incredible journey (Roosevelt hovered near death and almost left his bones on the river!), only to be met with disbelief from the scientific community that they had been and done what they originally set out to do: add a thousand mile river to the map of Brazil.

After reading their tale, there's no doubt that Candice Millard tells a story here that truly is stranger than fiction.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Cruelest Month

Thank you again to my book club friends who introduced me to Louise Penny's superb Inspector Gamache series.  And they were dead on when they recommended that this series be read in order.  You could, I suppose, read each mystery on its own and enjoy it, but you would miss so much of the subtlety and psychological aspects of the series which you couldn't appreciate without knowing the backstory.  I've just finished the third book in this series, The Cruelest Month (#507) and the books just keep getting better and better.  But I do disagree with my friends on one aspect of these mysteries; they love the series because they feel the characters of the fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec, are people you'd love to have dinner with.  Some of them, yes, but I think this series with its fey touches is at heart, very dark.  I don't think I could ever be completely comfortable at a dinner table with these villagers! 

After all, no good came to the woman who was murdered in The Cruelest Month after she has dinner with her neighbors.  At first blush, Madelaine Favreau appears to have been frightened to death at a séance, but the Surete supervisor in Montreal asks Inspector Gamache to travel to Three Pines on Easter to nose around and determine whether or not the death was helped along by human agency.  Gamache is reluctant to leave while his son's family are visiting from Paris, but duty calls.  And so a second plot is put into motion to bring about Gamache's downfall.

It's a gripping, and also disillusioning, read for those of like mind with Gamache.  But hope is still the heart of this book.  I can't wait to find out what happens next...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Happily Ali After

Oh dear.  After reading Ali Wentworth's book of essays, Happily Ali After (#506), I'm not sure there's any hope for the rest of us.  I think most of us would consider her a person who has it all: an interesting career with a measure of celebrity, a happy marriage, kids and no financial worries.  So when you read about what makes her feel insecure, it is a bit unsettling for those of us who might be lacking in one or more areas.  (Mind you, sitting on the couch in your pajamas scarfing down a favorite snack when you hear your husband called a "sexual icon" on national TV would be enough to make any woman choke on her raw cookie dough!)

I have a hard time picturing someone as zany as Ali being married to someone who appears as straight and conventional as George Stephanopoulos, but it's apparent from her stories that whatever they have together works.  Not so sure about her obsession with dachshunds, though.  I'm probably just prejudiced because it was dachshund who was responsible for my one and only dog bite!

If you're in the mood to be entertained, then Happily Ali After should do the trick.  It's a celebrity book that won't leave you with a bitter after taste.  In fact, it may make you re-think some of the blessings you take for granted.  So I guess the fairy wand on the cover picture did some good after all before it exploded!

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop (#505) by Nina George has been a best seller in Europe.  On one level, I can understand why, but on another I could only muster up a 3 star rating on GoodReads for this one.  I'm sure it will become a sensation here, too, regardless of my opinion.

I won't reveal much of the plot here; half the pleasure of reading this novel is the slow unfolding of Jean Perdu's character and his relationships with others.  He owns the bookshop of the title where he matches the perfect book to each client's needs.  His shop is located on a barge tied up in the Seine, named the Literary Apothecary by his admiring customers, but it doesn't stay in Paris for most of the book.  Jean is moved to journey in search of closure in both the physical and metaphysical sense throughout the book, so what else could the author name him but Perdu (Lost)?

Some parts of the book are lyrical in their descriptions, but much of it leaves me cold.  I could never trust a bookseller who would recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog for any reason!  Let's just say that my philosophy of life is radically different from Jean's.  A resounding "Meh..." on this one.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sage of Waterloo

When I tell you that the subject of Leona Francombe's debut novel, The Sage of Waterloo (#504) is about a white rabbit named William living on the grounds of the ruined Belgian chateau Hougomont Farm who reflects on the lessons to be learned from the Battle of Waterloo fought on this very soil  June 18, 1815, you might be ready to move right along to the next book.  But I found this to be one of the most interesting and unique perspectives on those events of two hundred years ago, and well worth the time spent with this slim volume.

William is not like the other rabbits in the hutch at Hougomont.  None of them are white, nor do they share his great-grandmother's gifts as an oracle.  He can dimly see the shadows that she occasionally sees around the grounds near the night of the full moon.  Old Lavender has kept the events of the Battle of Waterloo alive in the memory of the rabbits by countless retellings of the stories of soldiers who fought and died there.  It's magical the way Ms. Francombe has managed to present the reader with brief anecdotes that bring that day alive in a way that all the modern day re-enactors never could.

Highly recommended for anyone who has the slightest interest in the Battle of Waterloo, or who remembers reading Watership Down with great pleasure.  Try something different for a change!

Amidst Dark Satanic Mills - An Interplanetary Steampunk Adventure

Captain Robert Folkestone and Sergeant Felix Hand serving in Her Britannic Majesty's far-flung outposts on Mars make their second appearance in Ralph E. Vaughan's Amidst Dark Satanic Mills - An Interplanetary Steampunk Adventure (#503).  I love watching those classic 1930s black and white adventure movies like Gunga Din or The White Feather, and reading these steampunk novels evokes the same kind of pleasure.  I can easily picture Errol Flynn as Captain Folkestone, along with some unnamed cool blonde actress as his verbal sparring partner and Section Six agent, Lady Cynthia Barrington-Welles.  As for Felix Hand, I'm not sure who could play him properly; after all, he is a Highland Martian with a clockwork heart.  He is definitely the heart and soul of this trio, and its comic relief, as well.

In this outing, Folkestone and Hand are unwittingly caught up in a conspiracy much more monstrous than they could have ever imagined when they are asked as a courtesy to the Red Prince's Court to follow up on an unidentified human body floating in a backwater Martian canal.  What the people behind this conspiracy have in mind is no less than total domination of the Solar System with allegiance only to the shadowy organization Medusa.  Even knowing the name is enough to get an entity killed.  Lady Cynthia joins in the search for Medusa's base of operations, suspected to be somewhere in an asteroid belt, posing as a rich, eccentric British tourist.  Suffice it to say that things do not go well for any of them as they continue to close in on the ruthless minds behind Medusa.

Of course, as I was reading Amidst Dark Satanic Mills, the hymn tune Jerusalem to which this Blake poem is set kept playing in my brain.  Luckily for me, it's one I particularly like, but as an American, rarely get to sing...  So there you have it - lights, camera, action and a soundtrack!  All you need to do is supply the popcorn for a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Dog Who Knew Too Much

Was there ever a detective quite like Spencer Quinn's Chet, the canine half of his popular Chet & Bernie series?  Always the professional, alert and on the job until that scrap of sausage on the floor, or the scent of a pesky squirrel pulls him temporarily away.  But his human partner Bernie fills in the gaps, even if Chet doesn't always get the point of his comments.  But that's okay with Chet, because Bernie's the best, paws down.

The Dog Who Knew Too Much (#502) is the fourth outing in this wonderfully entertaining mystery series.  There isn't much money flowing into the Little Company's till, and there are bills to pay when Bernie reluctantly accepts a job to accompany a divorced client to a Parents' Day event at her son's wilderness camp as a "friend".  Her ex-husband has chosen this camp for their son, hoping it will toughen him up.  Anya Vereen isn't so sure.  When Devin fails to return from an overnight hike with the rest of his tent mates and the camp counselor admits to losing him, Bernie and Chet take the lead in initiating the search party no else seems to think is necessary.  Is there more behind Devin's disappearance than simply wandering off into the woods?  When Chet and Bernie discover a body in an abandoned mine not far from the camp site, it seems certain that the intrepid duo will suffer a similar fate...

Pooch in peril alert!  Chet and Bernie have been in tough spots before, but the coils of this conspiracy could be too tightly wound for them to escape, and the likelihood of finding Devin alive a game of diminishing returns.  I think this is the best Chet & Bernie mystery yet.  And what's with that weird dirty laundry locker room smell that Chet sniffs in the woods?  Finding out what's responsible is not the only surprise Chet has in The Dog Who Knew Too Much.  You'll just have to read it for yourself to find out about several new developments!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Between You & Me

Has a book on proper English usage ever been so entertaining?  I doubt it.   In Between You & Me (#501) Mary Norris has combined her years of experience as an editor at The New Yorker with chapters devoted to common errors and dilemmas she has come across during those years.  Some were problematic, and for those she provides a solution with often hilarious examples.  Some merely irritated the crap out of her.  (And she does admit to using that particular word at least once during her professional career.)  What she never, ever does is bore the reader.

Since I was constantly peppering my husband with "Did you know..?" comments, or interrupting his peace by chortling loudly, he finally gave in and asked me, "Where are coming up with all these factoids?  What on earth are you reading?"  I told him, and I promised to put him on my "Pass Along To" list for Between You & Me

After reading this book, I've resolved to do two things: first, to see if my sister-in-law can fill me on the background for the Southbury library incident, and second, to acquire some Blackwing pencils for my very own.  I'm not an editor, but I am an avid crossword puzzler, and I'm always on the lookout for the perfect pencil.  It seems Ms. Norris has pointed (ha!) me in a new and promising direction.  If you are at all curious about our complicated language, you couldn't do better than pick up a copy of Between You & Me for some entertaining guidance.  Highly recommended.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Raiders of the Nile

Raiders of the Nile (#500), Steven Saylor's latest novel, occupies a special place in my personal library.  Firstly, it marks a milestone for this blog.  Secondly, it was a gift from my husband, who knows my literary tastes to a "T".  How delightful that these two should coincide!  It's been sitting on my bookshelf since Christmas, where I could see it as I read through my coursework for EfM, keeping up with the newspaper and journals, holding out a promise of a particular treat to come.  I've finally had a chance to catch my breath and sit down with a book that carried no obligation of a swift return to a lender, to a group read or anything else of the sort.  The objective in reading Raiders of the Nile was pure pleasure, and it delivered in curl-my-toes-in delight style.

Gordianus, the young hero of Seven Wonders, has settled for the last three years in Alexandria, one of the most exciting and largest cities in the Ancient World.  Unlike his father, Gordianus the Finder, still plying his trade back home in Rome, the young Gordianus has found himself unable to settle to serious pursuit of anything resembling a career.  True, he now owns the slave girl Bethesda, around whom his life seems to center, but as a proper Roman any relationship between the two would not be possible.  He is content to live in the moment and put off resolving this thorny issue until some point in a hopefully far distant future.  That is, until the day that Bethesda is kidnapped for ransom by an organized gang of bandits who mistake her for a rich merchant's mistress.  Galvanized into action to rescue Bethesda with no money to his name, Gordianus soon finds himself in league with the pirates to carry off a daring heist in Alexandria as an invading army heads for Egypt.

Mistaken identities, peril at every turn, multiple villains, a witch, a tyrant and political plots - Raiders of the Nile has them all in spades.  It also presents an intriguing view of Egypt through a Roman's eyes before Rome conquered most of the Ancient World, all told with a light touch and plenty of page-turning action.  My favorite kind of book and a worthy addition to this blog!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chasing Mona Lisa

I seem to be spending a lot of my reading time in France lately.  Chasing Mona Lisa (#499) by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey continues that trend. 

As Germany looses its grip on France in the final days of the Occupation, Goring is intent on securing one final priceless piece of French art that has so far eluded his grasp - the Mona Lisa.  The French had secreted it away before France was invaded, but Goring's agent Major Heller has a fix on its location.  In the chaos surrounding Paris' liberation, a daring pair of Swiss agents working for America's OSS arrive to aid the French in their efforts.  Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler are caught up in the deadly pursuit of one of the world's most iconic paintings and the bitter political rivalry between de Gaulle's Free French Resistance, and its rival Communist factions.   Gabi and Eric are immediately authorized by Dulles, head of the OSS, to help Collette Perriard, curator in charge of the Mona Lisa, and her Communist lover Bernard Rousseau to rescue the painting before it can disappear into a Swiss bank vault forever.

Although I felt at first as though I were still reading Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, the action in this book was brisk and moved right along.  It also highlighted a bit of French history of which I had never been aware - the struggle between de Gaulle's forces and the French Communists to fill the power void when the Germans pulled out.  Of course we know who came out the winner in that contest, but this novel does shed light on the role the Communists played in liberating their country from the Nazis.  This is a fast read.  The action moves right along, and you want to keep reading to find out what happens to the characters next, with several twists and turns along the way.  A great vacation read!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Emma - A Modern Retelling

I was rather surprised by my reaction to Alexander McCall Smith's Emma - A Modern Retelling (#498).  I don't remember Emma being so mean in Jane Austen's classic novel.  Interfering and meddlesome, yes, but not so mean-spirited.  In consequence, I spent most of this book disliking Emma intensely for her superiority and judgmental high-handedness.  The reason this took me aback was the warmth with which McCall Smith's #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is imbued.  Characters may act badly, but we can still sympathize with them and their actions. Not so here; I kept wondering how George Knightley could possibly love this Emma.

Alexander McCall Smith doesn't keep the reader guessing about who is who in his adaptation of this story.  All the names have been preserved from the original, and so have the characters' relationships to each other.  If you're already familiar with the story, you know exactly where it is heading, and that's a good deal of the pleasure of reading a book like this.  The modern Emma has gone to university (not a first rate college, but respectable) and drives a Mini Cooper, but she still cuts the same swath through the neighboring society.  Somehow, landowners are still an important force in the environs of Highbury village.  Some things, it seems, never change.

I wasn't as enchanted with this modern version as I had hoped to be; it will never occupy the same place in the pantheon as Jane Austen's original.  But still, it makes for an undemanding beach read.

Joan of Arc - A History

When I was growing up, my older brother was captivated by Joan of Arc.  I can remember reading children's books about her, and if I'm not mistaken, even a Classics Illustrated comic book version of her story.  But I must admit, until I read Helen Castor's Joan of Arc - A History (#497), I never really had a good grasp of how or why her fate befell her. 

Ms. Castor has done an excellent job of explaining who was fighting whom in France, and how Joan herself played her role and was played in return.  The book itself is divided into three sections.  The first section begins at the end of the day of the Battle of Agincourt, fourteen years before Joan makes her appearance.  The politics and the enmities and the alliances are all concisely laid out so that the modern reader can make sense of the political situation in France, England and the rest of Europe at that time.  As key players died and their successors struggled for power in the ensuing years, France was a battleground.  Joan was sent to Charles, the Dauphin, at a crucial moment in his quest for the throne.  The second section of Ms. Castor's book deals with this period of her rapid ascent into a popular figure with the people, and her early, seemingly miraculous, victories over the English and Burgundians.  It wasn't long before the English put a price on her head, and after her capture their Catholic allies prosecuted Joan as a heretic and unnatural woman for wearing men's clothing.  She became a political pawn of the enemy until she was executed by them.  The third section of Joan of Arc deals with the aftermath of Joan's trial and execution, and her subsequent reinstatement as a national icon just as World War I was about to consume Europe.

If you are looking for a hagiography with rapturous descriptions of her three heavenly visitors, this is not the book for you.  If you want to read an interesting and thought-provoking analysis of Joan of Arc's place in history, and the extraordinary role she played in shaping modern Europe you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Soprano Wore Falsettos - A Liturgical Mystery

I sure wish the Pirate Liturgy featured in Mark Schweizer's fourth Liturgical Mystery The Soprano Wore Falsettos (#496) was coming soon to a church near me.  Arrrgh!  I'd be there w' me matey and me faithful Holy Parakeet in the blink of Davy Jones' eye, I would!  (And wouldn't you know that we were discussing the term Paraclete in EfM just this week!)  Warning!  If you take your religion seriously, without a hint of humor, this mystery series is definitely not for you!

This book made me laugh out loud several times, with my husband prompting me each time,"Oh, did you get to the part where....?"  We both agreed that the Pirate Liturgy was a vast improvement over the Clown Liturgy in the first book of the series, although we enjoyed that one, too.  But since we both belonged to a Savoyard group in our days of living in New England, you've got to know that a Gloria based on the rousing tune "For He Is A Pirate King" from the Pirates of Penzance was bound to win over our hearts.

There is a credible mystery buried in the fun, and an end I did not see coming to make the story as much as a draw as all the liturgical and musical "in" jokes.  (Loved the name of the new bar Hayden Konig's alter ego detective found in this book!)  I can't wait to read about the further adventures of Police Chief Konig and the other denizens of St. Germaine, North Carolina.  I wish he'd come and be the substitute organist at our church!  Enjoyable on so many levels.

And finally, thanks, Mark Schweizer, for giving the nod to Gerald Finzi, one of my favorite Twentieth Century composers.  Definitely worth giving a listen to if you've never been fortunate enough to run across him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Without You, There Is No Us - My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite - A Memoir

I had heard about Without You, There Is No Us (#495) by Suki Kim in my library book group.  Her subtitle - My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite - A Memoir gives you an excellent idea of the topic of this non-fiction work.  It is, in fact, a rare glimpse of how the future leaders of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea are being educated, as this time period covers the last remaining months of Kim Jong-Il's life when the students of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) are basically in a holding pattern, even though almost no-one on campus is aware of that fact.

Suki Kim was born in Korea and both sides of her family experienced great losses when the country was divided following the Korean War.  Brought to the United States as a young girl, Ms. Kim seems to have never settled down completely anywhere, although she is constantly driven back to both North and South Korea.  She seems to have fallen into the profession of journalism, and found herself in Pyongyang covering the New York Philharmonic's concert there some years ago.  She had already been to Pyongyang a number of times herself, and she is amazed by what the Western journalists believe are "ordinary" North Korean families encountered in staged interviews, and that they cannot see that they are being fed a strict diet of DPRK propaganda.  Of course, she does point out that she was the only journalist on this publicity junket who actually spoke Korean herself, so it was no wonder that all the other journalists were missing the big picture.  It was at a reception on this trip that Ms. Kim met one of the benefactors who told her that PUST would be operating with an English-speaking faculty of Christian missionaries and that they were currently seeking teachers.  Ms. Kim immediately applied for a job at PUST herself, with the idea of doing some clandestine journalistic reporting.  After two semesters of teaching at PUST, Without You, There Is No Us is the result.

The cover blurbs mention, "haunting", "lyrical" writing and a vision  of North Korean life unlike any other.  That is certainly true, and much of it was both fascinating and appalling.  Ms. Kim was assigned to teach both the highest-ranked English speakers at this new university, and the lowest-ranked group in a society that lives and dies by its ranking.  She is disturbed by the ease with which these "beautiful" young "gentlemen" lie to her, to each and to themselves as they are deceived and manipulated by the DPRK infrastructure.  What she fails to see is that she is every bit as deceiving, manipulative and lying to everyone around her.  She obtains her post in a Christian college by omitting the fact that she has no faith herself, lest it eliminate her chances of landing the position.  She is contemptuous of the very people who made her prolonged visit to North Korea possible, and mocks their zeal for what they perceive to be their mission.  Worse, she cannot even recognize that she came with her own missionary agenda: to open her students' eyes to the world beyond North Korea by dropping ever more obvious heavy-handed hints about forbidden topics -  the Internet, Google and Mark Zuckerberg, to mention just a few. 

She knew that such references were dangerous not just for her, but for her students and the other teachers at PUST as well.  With such a reliance on Google, you would have thought she would have bothered to do even the tiniest bit of research on the faculty at PUST so she would have an idea what these Christian missionaries' thoughts and beliefs were so she could blend in better and not stir up a dangerous brew.  Instead, she explodes in righteous indignation when one of the other teachers approaches her about violating a taboo. 

It made me angry that despite what she claimed was her love for her students, she regarded
their safety so little that she purposely created pitfalls for them in her teaching.  But of course, only she understood them.  I think this memoir would have been much more aptly named Without You, There Is No Me.

Introducing the New Testament

This is the second year that the course I am taking through University of the South, Education for Ministry, has used Mark Allan Powell's textbook Introducing the New Testament - A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey (#494) for their second year of study.  I must say I think that they've made an excellent choice with this book.

After some preliminary introductory chapters, each book of the New Testament has its own commentary chapter.  This is not dry textual reading, either.  Powell has a sense of humor, and he uses it here with great effect to engage the reader to pull him or her into the meat of his commentary.  I didn't always agree with what he says, but that also provided fodder for some great discussions during our seminars.  Not only does he present the material in an organized way in each chapter, there are also links online to additional brief essays about sources, cultural and social aspects not included in the text, as well as study guides and flash cards! 

The book is lavishly illustrated with a wealth of eye-catching paintings, sculptures and objects from around the world along with photos of actual Biblical locations and maps.  These pictures invariably became part of the seminar we shared with Year 1 students as we passed our textbooks around the group so everyone could see what the Year 2 students were talking about.  (I do have one bone to pick with Powell about one of these illustrations, though.  In the chapter on Ephesians, he includes a carving he labels as a "well-prepared Roman soldier".  Even a cursory glimpse should be enough to tell the viewer that this is, in fact, a depiction of a Roman gladiator, not a common foot soldier.  I knew my minor in Classic Studies would pay off one day!)

That aside, any text book that serves its purpose so well to inform and enlighten the reader on its subject, and to make the acquisition of such knowledge both interesting and painless to boot has done its job superbly.   Powell's Introducing the New Testament is just such a book.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Voyage of the Basilisk - A Memoir by Lady Trent

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Voyage of the Basilisk - A Memoir by Lady Trent (#493) by Marie Brennan.  This is actually the third book in this Victorian-era adventure series following the career of dragon naturalist Isabella Camherst, but you don't have to have read the previous two volumes to easily follow the protagonist as she sets sail for ports of call around the world where she can observe a variety of dragon species in an effort to advance the scientific research being done on them.

Isabella inhabits a world with as rigid a class system as England ever boasted, although here her native land is called Scirling.  As she sails aboard the Basilisk, it is easy to recognize most of the countries and cultures she encounters, although the names have all been changed to fictitious kingdoms and dynasties.  Victorian dress and mores prevail here, though, as she creates a scandal by departing on her expedition in the company of Tom Wilker, one of her oldest friends and colleagues, since she is a widow and Tom is unmarried.  Tongues will wag, even as Isabella pooh-poohs the thought of there being anything between the two of them other than mutual interest in serious scientific research.  Besides, she has her young son Jake and his governess along with them on the two year voyage.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, plenty!  Encounters with sea serpents, hostile soldiers and forbidding environments could easily end with Isabella's death, and she comes terribly close several times.  She does wind up playing a key role in a rescue that will have later ramifications on her life, and she winds up making a momentous discovery that will advance her own professional reputation when she judges the time is right.  There's a hint of romance, but the emphasis here is always on the dragons and Isabella's quest to learn more about them

A small thing that I also enjoyed about this book was the way it was published; an interesting and eye-catching cover thoroughly in tune with the theme of the book, but what really struck me was that it is printed in blue ink, with occasional wood-cut type illustrations throughout.  I found the blue printing remarkably easy on the eyes.  I also liked the fact that as in many Victorian-era novels, each chapter title has a number of subtitles.  As the story progresses, the subtitles at the top of the right hand page change to reflect where the reader is in the chapter.  It certainly helped me decide whether or not to keep turning the pages at night or quit until the next day! 

If you've enjoyed Naomi Novick's wonderful dragon series, Isabella is a heroine for you.  I can't wait to go back and read the previous two novels, and look forward to the further adventures of Isabella Camherst as they become available. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Jesus Cow

Holy cow!  That's exactly what bachelor farmer Harley Jackson gets one Christmas Eve when a calf is born in his barn with the unmistakable image of Jesus Christ on his flank.  Harley is flabbergasted.  He doesn't want things to turn into a three ring circus around what's left of his struggling family farm, but his attempts to conceal the calf's birth mark fail in a spectacular manner, just when he finally feels he has a chance in the romance department.

Michael Perry gets to skewer all kinds of stereotypes in his humorous novel, The Jesus Cow (#492).  There's the failed academic, earth-mother type with a secret; the Wisconsin farm bachelor you've met on Prairie Home Companion, the overly-aggressive developer and the wimpy town lawyer, not to mention the slick LA talent agent.  Everyone has their own secrets, and their own agendas, but the discovery of the - wait for it! - cash cow in Harley's barn brings everything in the small town of Swivel, Wisconsin, to a boil.  How things eventually play out make for a most entertaining and off-beat read.  Better get those cheese curds ready to snack on while you indulge in this treat!

Friday, May 8, 2015

17 Carnations; The Royals, The Nazis & The Biggest Cover-up In History

It's really too bad that the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, could never let go of her vendetta against Wallis Warfield Simpson, or "That woman", as she always referred to the American Duchess of Windsor.  After reading Andrew Morton's non-fiction account 17 Carnations: The Royals, The Nazis & the Biggest Cover-up In History (#491) it seems very clear that Wallis Simpson did Britain the immeasurable favor of distracting the king from ruling at a critical juncture in history.  George VI stepped in and did his duty, firmly steering England away from the Axis powers. 

Edward VIII comes across in this book as charismatic, popular, respected by most, but also vain, self-centered and more in tune with his own pleasures and interests than he could ever have been with the kingdom's welfare.  Wallis Simpson wasn't far behind him in putting her desires before everything else, even to the point of sending her maid from the relative safety of Spain to Nazi-occupied Paris to fetch a favorite green swim suit!  This was definitely a couple meant for each other who couldn't be bothered doing anything worthwhile for anyone or anything else unless there was an angle in it for them.  No wonder Hitler himself was interested in kidnapping the pair and re-installing Edward on the throne of England after the Nazis crushed the British.  Edward himself didn't hesitate to tell everyone around him that England didn't stand a chance against the Nazis, and that if he had stayed on the throne, Britain would never have gone to war, but negotiated a peace instead. 

Probably the most interesting material in the book was the existence of the "Windsor File" in the German Foreign Office documentation captured after the fall of Berlin.  "Operation Willi", the German kidnapping plot, was documented in the files, along with other potentially damaging materials in the dossier.  The British, in collusion with high-ranking Americans, tried to retrieve and  physically destroy all copies of this incriminating file, lest they harm the image of the Royals.  A most unlikely hero in the person of an American historian prevented that from occurring, and the historical records stand.  What suffered in the tug-of-war over whether to maintain or destroy the Windsor File, was evidence vital to the prosecution in the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal, and the loss of trust between former allies Britain and the United States.  History truly is written (or unwritten!) by the victors.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Tenor Wore Tapshoes - A Liturgical Mystery

Where else are you going to find riffs on wonderful liturgical music combined with a character like Binny Hen, the Scripture Chicken and a good mystery to boot than in one of Mark Schweizer's Liturgical Mysteries, in this case The Tenor Wore Tapshoes (#490)?

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in picturesque St. Germaine, North Carolina, is just a hotbed of activity.  Hayden Konig, Police Chief and organist at St. Barnabas is ready for a little peaceful downtime, but things never go as planned.  A Tent Revival will be visiting town for several weeks, a breakfast pastry looks uncannily like the Blessed Virgin Mary, a lawyer new to town is stirring up things at St. Barnabas, and oh, yes, did I mention the body in the altar?  Vandalism all over town, and all the clues point straight to Hadyn himself.  What's going on?  And will he ever propose to Meg?

These questions are all answered in the most amusing fashion in The Tenor Wore Tapshoes, but I have to warn you: Hayden's writing doesn't get any better, despite not only using Raymond Chandler's own antique typewriter, but now Hayden's channeling him, too.  These books make me laugh out loud, a rare, rare thing.  How funny was it that Binny Hen pecked her way to First Corinthians, Chapter 13 in the big Bible at Brother Hogmany McTavish's Gospel Tent Revival when First & Second Corinthians happened to be the EfM reading assignment this week?  Or that Hayden had to attend the Iron Mike Men's Retreat, where taking someone to hospital ER was the high point?  And just for the record, the Gorecki symphony Meg tries to get Hayden to listen to is well worth the effort.  My own copy has Dawn Upshaw as the featured soprano; maybe Konig should try that recording...

Can't wait to read the next installment, and I'll never look at a squirrel the same way again!