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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Little Boxes

I heard about Little Boxes: Twleve Writers on Television edited by Caroline Casey on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and it sounded really interesting. It’s a collection of essays about television and how the shows we watched as children influenced us and our childhoods. I have to admit, All the Books made it sound much more interesting than it actually was, at least for me. And I had the song “Little Boxes” stuck in my head the whole time. Of the book, I thought only two essays were really strong. The one on The Cosby Show and the one about Daria.

It probably doesn’t help that the TV shows people wrote about were mostly before my time. In the introduction it states that all writers grew up in the time before Internet as we know it today, and when classic black and white shows were still playing on reruns and Nick at Night. Given that introduction I thought I’d know all the shows (I watched a lot of I Love Lucy and Bewitched and The Munsters on Nick at Night), but I only watched two of the shows, and was familiar with one other– Anne of Green Gables and Daria were the shows I watched and Dawson’s Creek is the one I’m familiar with. Other shows touched on are Blossom, Twin Peaks, Cosby Show, and then some I’d never heard of before (mostly 1990 and earlier).

One thing I did learn, is just how different shows are today on Netflix or on DVD because when originally aired, they weren’t anticipating re-watches and DVD releases, so many shows had great music, which is then changed to canned music or cheaper music when re-released. Now I wonder what music was originally on some of my favorite shows (Friends and Sex and the City) specifically, since they originally aired pre-home video release of TV shows. Also, Friends has some pretty awful transition music, so I’d love to think it was better originally.

Also, fun fact. This book is published by a small press in Minnesota. I think it’s pretty exciting the book made it to a (relatively) popular book podcast.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

I toyed with the idea of signing up for Book of the Month back in April. Ultimately, I decided not to join, but if I had, I would have gone with One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul, partially because it fits a Book Riot Read Harder category and partially because the cover and title are awesome, but mostly because I was intrigued. I really enjoy books of essays, although I rarely read them.

While I really enjoyed One Day We’ll All Be Dead, it did take me a while to finish. I’d tear through one essay and then not be motivated to pick the book up again until lunch three days later and so on and so on. Even though it took me a long time to finish the collection, I really enjoyed it. Koul is an amazing writer, and very clearly highlights the racial and gender issues so common in our society, while also making you snort with laughter.

“Nothing bad can happen to you if you’re with your mom. Your mom can stop a bullet from lodging in your heart. She can prop you up when you can’t. You mom is your blood and bone before your body even knows how to make any.”

I found myself vacillating from shock to laughter to almost crying to laughter again and again. For me, Koul’s writing is strongest when writing about her family, and as someone who worries about her parents and who has a strong relationship with her mother, I can really empathize with many aspects of these essays.

Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book written by someone you admire

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A collection of stories by a woman

Modern Mrs. Darcy: A book of any genre that addresses current events

 

PopSugar 2017 Roundup

For reference, here’s the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

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I loved this book. It took me a moment to get into the swing of the story, what with slightly fantastical elements, but once I got there I was hooked! I’m being lazy and don’t want to write a summary of the plot, so I’m going to copy and paste the Goodreads plot summary:

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.   

If I were a better writer, this is what I’d want my book to look like. I am an admitted over user of parenthesis and I love all the snarky asides. I can’t wait until the other Lady Janie books come out! What will these crazy ladies come up with for Jane Eyre and Calamity Jane. My only complaint: I wish there was a little bit more romance between Jane and G.

I haven’t decided if this book will fit in book written by multiple authors, book about a mythical creature, or book with a character’s name in the title. I currently have it in character’s name, but it can fit so many slots, I’ll decide at the end of the year where it’s needed most.

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams

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I downloaded this book the same time I downloaded Maybe in Another Life but I could not get into it! I read the first page a dozen times over the course of two weeks. It wasn’t until I checked out the large print version at work one day that I made any progress. However, once I made progress I was hooked.

New York Times bestselling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig present a masterful collaboration—a rich, multigenerational novel of love and loss that spans half a century….1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel’s portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room?

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.

This book requires its readers to suspend their disbelief, because the plot really is outlandish. But, that’s okay. It was just the right amount of romance and history and drama for me. Many Goodreads reviewers say they got confused about characters and who belonged to who. Maybe I read more multi generational or multi perspective stories than the average person, but I found keeping track of the plot and characters simple, once I got into the story.

Again, this book can fit multiple Popsugar categories: Written by more than one author, takes place during war time, and a book set in two different time periods. Again, I have multiple titles for many of these categories so I’m going to wait and see.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

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I’ve read many young adult novels in verse and many children’s poetry collections, but never (at least to my recollection) a young adult collection of poetry. For a book review article I wrote for April, which happens to be National Poetry Month, I read Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. Each poem is based on a fairy tale and retold from the perspective of a teenager (usually teenage girl). Many of the poems focus on body image and weight and the ridiculous headlines found in teen (and women’s) magazines. One of my favorites is

Sleeping Beauty’s Wedding Day

After the kiss and the trip to the castle comes the

showering, shaving, shampooing, conditioning, detangling, trimming,

moussing, blow-drying, brushing, curling, de-frizzing, extending, texturizing,

waxing, exfoliating, moisturizing, tanning, medicating, plucking, concealing, smoothing,

bronzing, lash lengthening, plumping, polishing, glossing, deodorizing, perfuming,

reducing, cinching, controlling, padding, accessorizing, visualizing, meditating,

powdering, primping, luminizing, correcting, re-curling, re-glossing, and spraying.

No wonder that hundred-year nap

just doesn’t seem long enough.

I have to admit, I didn’t love all the poems and many were a little too angsty for my preference, but it was definitely interesting! Also, I love fairy tales.

I’m putting this collection in a Bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read. I’m not positive it was a bestseller, but it was included as a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Poetry in 2014, which implies it was as popular/bestselling book of poetry.

Lonesome Dove

I do apologize for my long blogging absence… My husband and I have several new(ish) house projects and an adorable new(ish) puppy dog that are taking up lots of our time. However, I have been reading! And listening.

A while back I downloaded Lonesome Dove onto my Audible account. At the time it seemed like the best way to tackle the 945 page saga. Then when I read through  the 2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge categories I decided I would use Lonesome Dove to check off “a book that’s more than 600 pages” and “a book and it’s prequel.” Generally I decided not to use a book to check off more than one category, but in this instance, I made the exception, since any of the two prequels were also 900+ pages.

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In the end, I decided not to use Lonesome Dove or Comanche Moon as the “book and its prequel.” Mostly because I waited too long to start Lonesome Dove and it took me more than a month to listen to it, even while painting kitchen cabinets and walking the dog. I certainly couldn’t cram it in the last few weeks of December.

This is all really pointless and muddled information, but it’s all kind of related…

As for Lonesome Dove, I loved it. Lee Horsely narrated the audible version and he is fantastic. Sometimes, when I listen to a book I can’t read it simultaneously because I need the narrator’s voice, or it feels wrong. This is one of those instances. Horsely really made the story for me.

I can’t quite explain why I liked the story so much. Maybe it’s because the “main” characters are older, which seems to be uncommon today. Maybe because McMurtry skillful creates a multitude of believable characters, and tells the story from each of their perspectives. Maybe because I could really sense his love of the American West throughout his writing. Maybe it’s because the concept of driving cattle from Texas to Montana with no roads or modern amenities is completely foreign to me and I admire their strength and determination. Maybe because the writing is so vivid and the characters so timeless I felt like I was on a cattle drive in the 1800s.

While there are flaws (I wish the Native characters were given a stronger voice, for example), it is overall a skillfully written saga of the American West as told by a multitude of historical viewpoints. I can completely understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

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The miniseries on the other hand, did nothing for me (except that Robert Duvall reminds me of my grandpa). I felt it was way too short and unless you read the book you have no understanding of most character’s motivations. Also, Tommy Lee Jones is practically impossible to understand, he mumbles so much. I wish Lonesome Dove and the rest of the series were turned into a real TV show like Outlander or Game of Thrones.

Best Books I Read this Summer, or Books with Pretty Covers

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

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Astonish Me follows the story of Joan, a young ballerina in the 1970s; Arslan Ruskov the Russian dancer Joan helped defect; and Jacob, Joan’s childhood best friend. Told from alternating perspectives the story moves from the ballet studios of New York and Europe in the 1970s to the suburban paradise of California in the 80s and 90s. While the story moves slowly, Shipstead’s writing is amazing and the characters, while not all likable, kept my interest.

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It doesn’t hurt that I have a slight obsession with all things ballet. Pretty sure it stems from my lack of grace and dance ability. I hate to admit, if I saw the first cover I wouldn’t have read the book. The pretty pink ballet ribbons drew me in, but now that I read the book, I love the first cover.

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

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When I picked up this book all I knew about it was that the author wrote Girls in White Dresses (which I loved) and that it took place in DC during a political campaign. Turns out the main character’s name is Beth, her husband’s name is Matt and he hails from the DC suburbs of Maryland. I saw a few other similarities between myself and my Matt and Close’s characters, but I think that has a lot more to do with her ability to write realistic characters, with regular jealousies and fears and flaws.

And that is what I love about The Hopefuls. Yes, Beth is passive, but there are so many passive people out there in the world. We can’t only read about one kind of person. Yes, Beth and Matt are kind of awful to each other at points, but again, nobody is perfect. I get the sense that Close is a very insightful and introspective person, because I don’t think this book could be written by someone who is not honest with themselves.
This one of the few times I read a book on e-reader since there were so many quotes I wanted to highlight, but since it’s a library book I didn’t. And now I’m totally the actual quotes, but I know there were a lot of good ones!

No Wind of Blame

I first read a Georgette Heyer book because Lauren Willig, one of my favorite authors mentioned her Regency Romance books at a book signing. I enjoyed the book (can’t remember which one I read though), but it didn’t wow me like her Regency Romances do to others. Later on that year I discovered her mysteries because they have the most gorgeous re-release covers.

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Heyer’s mysteries take place in her present time, which is 1930s England. I have a new obsession with this time between the wars in England. It’s so glamorous, even with the depression going on. Maybe that’s because I only read about relatively well to do people in England in the 20s and 30s…

Back to the book. The Goodreads synopsis reads:Tragedy befalls the Carter family following an eventful visit from a Russian prince and a scandalous blackmail letter. The murder of Wally Carter is a bewildering mystery — how does one shoot a man crossing a narrow bridge without being near the murder weapon when it is fired? The analytical Inspector Hemingway reveals his unnerving talent for solving a fiendish problem.

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The murder doesn’t happen until well into the story, which drags the plot a bit, but also lets the reader get acclimated to the interesting array of characters. There is Carter’s wife/widow Ermyntrude who used to be an actress, married into money, and has admirers all over the county. She is prone to drama and excitement and everyone assumes Carter married her for her money. Then there is Ermyntrude’s daughter from her first marriage, Vicky. Vicky is a “bright young thing” and also prone to drama and manipulation. She tries on a new personality and outfit multiple times a day, but is very protective of her mother. Also at the house is Wally’s ward, Mary, who is Vicky’s opposite in almost every way. Lastly, there is the Russian prince, who may or may not be what he claims.
There are, of course, more characters than what I mentioned, but those four are the main ones. With the exception of Wally, our murder victim. But he’s boring. At the beginning I really disliked Vicky, but by the end, she was my favorite character. Perhaps the character matured throughout the book, or maybe she just grew on me. I can’t say I recommend this book if you have not read any Georgette Heyer, but if you have and are looking for a cozy mystery, go ahead!