Spooky Books

Title: The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher: Bantam, 386 pp October 4, 2016 

Genre: mystery, cozy, English historical, WWII fiction, series

4+ stars

Author: MacNeal is the NYTimes best selling author of the Maggie Hope (#6) series. Her novels have been nominated for many awards, with her first, Mr Churchill’s Secretary winning the Barry award. Her first job was assistant to novelist John Irving, she graduated cum laude and with departmental honors from Wellesley College, cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her stories are well researched, which rich historical detail. There is significant character development between books, although it seems each ends where the next begins. I enjoy reading about strong, independent, capable women and Maggie makes a fascinating seasoned spy/special agent. Her exploits vividly portray the blackout, terror, everyday life of war torn London.

Story line: We have another chapter in Maggie Hope’s wartime experiences, this one darker than most. It also represents a dark time, especially to the reader who knows three more bleak years are ahead. And darker still with the blatant rampant sexism which still exists today. There are several story lines, involving characters from previous books, so it is useful to read them in order. Primarily, Maggie is to aid DCI Durgin of Scotland Yard in tracking down a serial killer, a copycat Jack the Ripper (look up the Blackout Beast). The victims include many of the women Maggie has trained to become agents, so the hunt becomes very personal and potentially very dangerous. It is a quick intriguing read, one that is thought provoking and informative. I look forward to Maggie rescuing her half sister in Paris.

Quotes:

Something was wrong. Maggie Hope was sure, but she couldn’t yet put her finger on it…

Maggie was working as a girl Friday in a dim reception room at 64 Baker Street, one of the Special Operations Executive’s offices.

Only twenty-seven, Maggie had already performed any number of missions as an agent for SOE, but had taken a desk job in London while she was waiting for the arrival of her German half sister, Elise Hess, a Resistance worker in Berlin.

After all, she’d been secretary to the P.M. himself—as well as saving the life of the Princess Elizabeth, parachuting into Nazi Berlin, teaching at a paramilitary camp, and keeping the First Lady of the United States of America safe from scandal. How hard could managing an office be? And it was only temporary, until her half sister arrived in London and settled in.

When she’d arrived in London from Boston, four years ago, all she’d wanted to do was settle her grandmother’s estate, then return to the United States to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics at MIT, one of the few top universities to allow women as graduate students.

“It’s like … an accident of number theory. With enough data points, patterns will emerge that point to the place where the murders took place.”

“Are ye daft, woman?” Durgin exploded. “That’s the looniest idea I’ve ever heard of! We don’t use humans as live bait! This isn’t some Highland huntin’ party!”

I can’t fight everything, Maggie realized. But I can do some things. And those I’ll do to the best of my ability and strength.

Read on:

Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series

Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series

Rhys Bowen Royal Spyness series

Emma Jameson Marriage can be Murder

I intend to look up Sarah Sundin who evidently also writes WWII novels. MacNeal also has an excellent bibliography at the end of this book.  

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. The series available from Rochester Public Library.

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Book of the Moment by Helen McIver

dinae fash
June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,
Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

Quotes:
“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Book Review – Unbroken


Unbroken
Laura Hillenbrand
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Years ago when I was just a college student and was in the early stages of getting to know my husband’s grandparents, I’d sit for hours on hot summer days and listen to my future grandfather-in-law talk about his experiences in WWII. Granndad had been a POW during WWII, and had been imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp.  It was interesting to me at the time, but it was so far removed from my young adult life that I didn’t realize the gift I was being given by his telling me his stories.  What I do remember from his many stories – what has stayed with me these last 20+ years – is his saying, “Thank God I was in a German camp.  Thank God I wasn’t in a Japanese POW camp.”  Until recently, I never understood what he meant.  I never understood how he could be thankful to have been captured by the Germans, rather than by the Japanese.  That simple statement has haunted me for years, and yet it has never occurred to me to ask the most basic question…why?  What was so much worse in the Japanese POW camps that one would be actually thankful to’ve been found by the Germans instead?

And now I know.

Unbroken is the story of survival.  While the overall story focuses on one man in particular, Louis Zamperini, and his remarkable survival on the open ocean before being captured and held for years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, it’s more than just the story of one man.  Unbroken is the story of the strength of the human spirit. It’s the story, I’m sure, that many of the WWII soldiers who were captured by the Japanese could tell; the story of the atrocities they endured, and then the nightmares that haunted them for years to come.  It’s the story of an entire generation, and it has opened my eyes to a better understanding of how and why my parents and grandparents behaved and thought the way they did.

Laura Hillenbrand, Author

Unbroken is that rare work of non-fiction that reads like a novel, drawing the reader so deeply into the lives of the characters that one completely forgets that he’s reading a true story.  Unlike many non-fiction writers, Laura Hillenbrand has a gift for personalizing the individual’s story and drawing the reader in with the facts, without overwhelming him with trivia.  Truly an exceptional read and one I would strongly recommend.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional and large-print format, and through the library’s digital collection for e-books and audio players.  For more information about this book or the author, visit the author’s website by following this link.