Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

I’m being lazy today. I blame it on the lack of coffee. So, I’m going to copy and paste the Goodreads blurb of Mr. Churchill’s Secretarythe first in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and my short Goodreads review.

Goodreads:

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character,  Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

My Review:

If I had half stars I’d give it 2.5

This series has been on my radar since publication in 2012(ish) but after reading this one I won’t be reading the rest. Which is unfortunate, because this is right up my alley, and it even says right at the top “for fans of Jacqueline Winspear,” and I definitely fall into that category. But MacNeal’s writing is awful, there are too many characters, it jumps from one narrative to the next with no break in the page so it’s hard to tell what’s going on, and the story goes well beyond where it should have ended. With that said, once I got into the mystery I had to know what happened (which is why it’s 2.5 stars).

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Big Little Lies

After hearing so much about the TV show, Big Little Lies, I decided I had to read the book. I actually listened to the book, which was kind of nice, because the narrator has an Australian accent. However, towards the end I could hear every lip smack and swallow and that drove me nuts.

I was expected to enjoy the book, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so dark. I think Liane Moriarty did a great job with the emotional aspects of the book, especially the ones we usually don’t even want to admit to ourselves.

I then tried to watch the series, and for me, it fell super flat. I think Reese Witherspoon as Madeline was really harsh. She’s too skinny and too perfect. In my mind I pictured someone a bit more flamboyant — Jane  describes her as a “shiny girl” (I think), so I never got the impression that Madeline’s outfits and accessories were particularly trendy or classy like they are in the show. I imagined a blond, older version of Lorelai Gilmore. And I don’t buy Adam Scott and Reese Witherspoon as a couple, although I can’t quite pinpoint why.

However, I loved Nicole Kidman as Celeste. Since I knew she played the part, I think I had Kidman in my mind while reading.

I have to admit, I didn’t finish watching the show. I started, and then my dad stayed with us for two weeks and helped us with our basement remodel, and it didn’t seem like something he’d be interested in watching. Then I forgot about it, and then it went way overdue, and I had to return the DVDs to the library. Oh well… maybe I’ll try again in a few months when the wait list is shorter. I clearly wasn’t compelled to binge it like everyone said I would. Although the music and scenery were amazing!

Forbidden

A few weeks ago I was catching up on podcasts while driving to my parents and Jeff and Rebecca from Book Riot talked for a long time about romance authors and the lack of diversity in romance. This piqued my interest, and decided to read one of Beverly Jenkins’ novels. I’m trying to read more diversely in terms of author and protagonist (but mostly #ownvoices), and also genre. I’m doing a lot better with #ownvoices than I am with genre, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine both.

I also decided to use a Jenkins novel for the prompt “a best seller in a genre you don’t normally read.” And let me tell you, it was difficult figuring out which books exactly are best sellers. Everything says, “Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author,” but I could never find out which books were bestsellers. So, I went with one of the most recent publications: Forbidden.

Forbidden follows Eddy and Rhine (who apparently was briefly introduced in another novel way back in the 80s) in a booming mining town in Nevada post-Civil War. Eddy is determined to make her way to San Francisco and start a restaurant but finds herself alone and close to death in the desert. Rhine is a scion of respectability and money in town, but he harbors a deep secret. Rhine was born a slave, the result of abuse between the slave owner and his mother, and is now passing for White. Rhine rescues Eddy and instantly feels drawn to her, but in order to be with her he must sacrifice all he has worked towards.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Jenkins’ writing style, I like how seamlessly she weaves history in with the plot. The last few pages are full of notes and bibliography, so she clearly did her research. I’m also ashamed to realize just how little I know of postbellum history, aside from the highlights featured in textbooks.

Through Smart Bitches Trashy Books I found an interview with Jenkins from Jezebel and I thought this bit was most illuminating:

You’ve talked a little bit about what draws you to the nineteenth century—why does the postwar period to the end of the century interest you so much as a writer?

There was so much going on and it’s not a typical time that we know about, regardless of what race we are, and I think the more we know about each other the better off we’d all be. And it also has its parallels with the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Because right after the Civil War you had those great gains with Reconstruction—this huge amount of Black men in Congress and representatives through the states, you had the lieutenant governor in Louisiana, you had Black folks in positions of power and businesses and colleges going up. And then when Reconstruction died in 1876, everything started to unravel. You had the rise of the Klan and you had the Redemption period. And lynchings and blood and death and destruction. And folks said we’ve got to leave the South. They moved into places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, California. Which is where I set my very first book, Night Song, in one of those Black townships in Kansas.

In the ‘70s you had African Americans retaking their places in Congress and in the Senate and in local elections. So there’s a parallel in us rising and then the ‘90s and stuff started to sort of peter out again. It’s an up and down cycle. Great things happening in both centuries, both bittersweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience reading Forbidden and am definitely going to check out another of Jenkins’ books.

When the Moon is Low

This one took me a loooooong time to listen to. Started it in April then finished it in October.

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi is about a family in Afghanistan who become a target of the Taliban regime. Forced to flee with forged papers, Fereiba’s only goal is to bring her children to her sister’s in London when the unthinkable happens: her son, Saleem is separated from the rest of the family.

The beginning of the book was wonderful. All about Fereiba’s youth in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. It was fascinating! I learned so much! It helps that the narrator (Sneha Mathan) has a beautiful voice. However, the narration suddenly switches to Saleem’s story, which makes sense by the end, but the transition felt so forced at the time. We had so much time invested in Fereiba’s story– from her youth to adulthood– that to switch to a new voice, with very little background on the character outside his mother’s observations was odd. Also, Neil Shah’s voice seemed particularly grating after Sneha’s.

Like I said, the narration switch eventually makes sense, but it threw me off, and I took a loooong break from listening for a while. Once I got back into the swing of the story it was fine. Although I do think it ended rather abruptly given the amount of buildup and background on Fereiba.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

Over Labor Day Weekend I listened to the newest installment of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service (I just realized I didn’t blog about Crowned and Dangerous, which I also read this year. Oops). During a meeting with the Queen to discuss Georgie’s renouncement in the line of succession and her (hopefully) upcoming wedding, it’s discovered that Georgie plans on visiting Italy to be with Belinda who is soon to have her baby. Turns out the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson will also be in the area, and the Queen asks Georgie to do a bit more spying on the Prince and “that woman.” As one cannot say no to the Queen, and the potential permission to marry Darcy (a Catholic) is on the line, Georgie agrees.

Of course, our whole cast of characters finds their way to Italy in one way or another and antics ensue. In many ways this installment is more serious than the others. Hitler’s threat becomes more real, Bowen begins to discuss the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s alleged Nazi leanings, Belinda is having a baby in secret, and Georgie and Darcy are finally planning a wedding. Despite the serious subject matter I found On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service to be one of the better chapters in Georgie’s adventure. It didn’t rely as much on cheap jokes and fantastical situations (ghosts in Malice at the Palace and Vampires in Royal Blood come to mind).

I’m very curious to see where the series will go from here. I did some research and King George passes away in January, 1936. Our story here ends in spring 1935. We all know from history class and The King’s Speech that the Prince of Wales abdicates the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, and shortly(ish) after World War II breaks out. Will the series continue once the Prince and “that woman” are married? It’s such a plot point that I hope it doesn’t. However, it would be interesting to see what Georgie and Darcy get up to during World War II. I imagine all kinds of spying missions…

Wonder Woman

I’ve been on a bit of a superhero kick recently. My husband got me hooked on Arrow and The Flash, we watched all the Avengers movies in order recently (although we still haven’t seen the newest Spiderman), and we saw Wonder Woman of course. One of Book Riot’s challenges is to read a Superhero Comic with a female lead, so a Wonder Woman story was the obvious choice. Having seen the movie I knew a tiny bit about Wonder Woman’s story but still had to google various characters. Also, since Arrow and The Flash are in the D.C. Universe I kept trying to make connections there that didn’t exist.

I’m glad I read Wonder Woman: Volume One: The Lies, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. First off, the story is super confusing since Diana doesn’t know what is a true memory anymore and what is legend and what is someone sabotaging her memory. So as readers, especially someone new to the storyline, I had no idea either. Which is mostly fine, but then we never find out! I know the story has to continue on to the next volume, but some closure would be nice.

Lastly, I didn’t realize that comics often have different artists, so throughout the volume the art changed and the characters looked different. It wasn’t hugely problematic, but it was annoying.

Book Riot Reading Challenge: A superhero comic with a female lead

Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book becoming a movie in 2017

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life

I can’t quite pinpoint why this book took me so long to read. At one point I even marked at DNF on Goodreads. For one thing, it is slightly more violent than I had expected. Somehow I must have missed the murder portion of the book blurb. With that said, it isn’t a particularly violent book, just different than I had expected. Pretty sure I saw the pretty cover, read “pirate,” and skipped the rest of the description.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell centers around two sisters- Lilly and Neave (which I never really figured out how to pronounce)- who are very close and very different. Lilly is flighty and interested in fun while Neave is awkward and prefers spending time with books to people, especially The Pirate Lover, a romance novel she took from an elderly neighbor.

As the two sisters grow older they start their own cosmetics business, in the same vein as Mary Kay and Avon, and Lilly finds herself involved with a charming and manipulative man. When she dies, it’s up to dead Lilly in the beyond, with the help of the old faithful family dog, to save Neave.

The story of Lilly and Neave is interspersed with chapters from the romance novel Neave reads over and over. I hate to admit this, since it shows you just how dense I can be, but I didn’t realize until the last few chapters that the plot of the The Pirate Lover and the main story mirror each other.