The Double Agent- William Christie- a Review

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WWII Iran, 1943

The story opens with the hero in dire straits in Iran. He’s in a cell being held at the British embassy and he’s doomed if he doesn’t take action to protect himself.

The hero, Alexsi, warned the British about a plot to kill Churchill ordered by Stalin. As his ‘reward” for doing so, the British intend to send him right back into the fray as a spy for them. A sure fire way for Alexsi to be killed himself.

A clever man who has had a rough existence, he finds a way to survive. But fate has a way of chasing this man and it isn’t long until he’s back in peril. In fact, this whole book is basically him going from one perilous situation to another. Such is the life of a spy in WWII.

Excitement abounds, the story teems with edge of the seat scenarios, and the violence is sometimes stunning and off the charts.

I enjoyed this book for the storyline as well as the hero. He’s smart, industrious, witty and very likeable. Almost like a violent McGyver. He finds his way into scrapes and back out using the resources to hand.

Clearly, the writer of this story has a great way with words and figuring out a way to get his protagonist out of scrapes. I liked the sheer audacity of some of the hero’s actions.

This appears to be book two of a series and it seems there will be a book three since the war isn’t over in the timeline of the story (and even though the ending was satisfying, it is clear this character has more to do). I was pleased to find I didn’t need to have read book one to jump right into book two. There was no confusion about who this man was and why he was in the situation he was in. That being said, I’m planning to go back and read the first one since I’m intrigued by the character. And I eagerly await the next installment.

I would warn readers that the book is quite violent so if you’re squeamish, be wary. Otherwise, be ready for an interesting ride-along with Alexsi.

I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an unbiased review.  It comes out November 15, 2022.

The Magnolia Palace- Fiona Davis

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This was a quick read that was enjoyable. I found it interesting that the main character was inspired by a real person. I knew the family who owned the Magnolia Palace were real –The Frick family. Mr. Henry Clay Frick was an industrialist as well as an art patron and eventually, he left his home to the city to make into a museum. Audrey Munson was the woman who inspired the heroine, Lillian, in this story. Audrey was used by many sculptors of that era as a model for many of the statues around the city of New York. Many call her the first super model.

The novel begins with Lillian being in the wrong place at the wrong time and she is questioned in the murder of her landlord’s wife. She flees and ends up in a job interview to be the assistant to Mr. Frick’s daughter.

The action swings back and forth from the gilded age to the 1960s where we meet a model named Veronica who has come over from England to be part of a photo shoot at the Frick mansion which is now a museum. She meets a young man who is interning at the museum.  They accidently get locked into the museum overnight in a snowstorm and blackout.

Back in the gilded age, Lillian works for the daughter of the industrialist and tries to help her in her love life as the woman’s father wants her to marry. There’s a lot of interesting psychological undertones in Frick’s son and daughter’s interactions with him as well as each other.

Lillian finds herself falling for the young man who has been chosen to be her employer’s fiancé and he falls for her as well. The daughter goes out of town with her family and sets a kind of treasure hunt around the house for her intended husband in order to amuse him while she’s gone. Lillian helps him in the quest and they draw closer together.

In the 1960s, Veronica finds the clues for the treasure hunt in the house/museum and she, along with the intern start to follow them while they are stranded in the house.

The rest of the story continues to move back and forth between the time periods and the two heroines. A murder occurs and the excitement builds in each era. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s a unique and interesting story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it if you like art, the gilded age, the 1960s, mysteries and a fictionalized look at the past in an exciting way.

Issues of racism and prejudice against women with ambition are two of the themes of this story as well as family love and conflict.  Overall, I think it’s a good story.

The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl

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A tale of two protagonists. One from the 1940s and WWII era, Pam, and one from modern times, Julia, her granddaughter. The story alternates chapters between the two women. This book was an easy read as the author’s style was straightforward and uncomplicated. I found myself yelling at the modern woman for the way she allowed her husband to treat her and talk to her. I wanted to smack him for his nastiness and his thoughts that all she was basically good for was to cook and clean for him while he lolled about.

The girl from WWII who worked at Bletchley Park was naïve and a little bit too sweet for my taste but I did enjoy her storyline. She found herself working as a code breaker and signed the Official Secrets Act as part of her job. She took that very seriously although she almost messed up a few times as the story went on.

Pam was a popular girl, making friends easily and having two very different men attracted to her. She met them both when she was billeted at Woburn Abbey. One was the gardener there and the other was a young man who worked with her at Bletchley. Adventures ensue and she has to make some hard decisions, but eventually figured out her true feelings about the things happening in her life.

The modern protagonist had a lot go wrong in her life, but she drew strength from her children She was pitched a lot of curveballs as the story unfolded.

While I solved both storylines pretty early on in the book, it was still an enjoyable read and I think it is a good story for people interested in that time period as well as readers who like stories that tie together the past and the present. 

The Journal of Helene Berr, Translated from French by David Bellos

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This journal is hard to read because we know the outcome at the outset. A young woman cheated of a life of happiness at a young age due to hatred and evil. I believe it’s a must-read though since we can’t allow such evil to rise again. Being reminded of the awful things done in the name of hatred and irrational hostility must never be forgotten or swept under the rug.

Helene Berr was a French Jewish woman living in Paris during WWII.  She was a student at the Sorbonne and kept a journal of her everyday life before and during the war. Her father was an engineer and had friends in high places who helped protect him and his family for a while during the Nazi persecution of the Jewish population.

While under the impression he and his family were safe, her father continued to work in his business and his daughter, along with the rest of the Berrs, lived as if things were normal. Going to classes and cafes and even traveling by train to and from their home in the countryside.

Helene was emotionally torn between a man she had always thought she might marry and a new young man she met at the Sorbonne. She eventually realized she was in love with the new man. His name was Jean Morawiecki and he loved her as well. They planned to marry. Eventually, he left to join the free French and work with the resistance, believing her to be safe in Paris.

The journal starts out with regular days and how she and her friends filled their lives. She was a musician and many entries focus on playing her violin and listening to music. The journal moves into sadder territory when all the Jewish people were ordered to wear the yellow star. Helene’s journal entries relating to her shame and embarrassment in wearing the star are heartbreaking.

As time goes on, her father is arrested and sent to the Drancy internment camp. After several weeks, his employer was able to get him released as he was an essential employee. In our 20/20 vision of looking at the past through the lens we now have, as a reader of this journal, one can’t help but wish they’d taken this event as a hint that they should have left immediately to get to a country of safety. It really wouldn’t be fair to judge them for their inaction as they had no way of knowing exactly what happened to the people who were deported. In fact, her journal makes one think Helene thought the deportation was not permanent and that people would return after the war if the Nazi’s lost. And who could blame them? Of course, they weren’t told they were being deported to be murdered. The Nazis wanted the deportees to be compliant and non-combative so as to ease their task of getting them on the train cars to send them to the camps.

As the journal goes on, it gets more and more heartrending. The family did eventually go into hiding but they were betrayed. On a night they chose to sleep at their own home, they were taken and sent to Auschwitz. They were sent from Drancy in March of 1944- on Helene’s 23rd birthday of all things—which just makes in worse to this reader. Her mother died in April 1944 in the gas chamber, and her father was poisoned by an anti-Semite doctor in the infirmary in September, 1944, both at Auschwitz. Helene survived to be moved to Bergen-Belson in November, 1944. She died of typhus after being unable to rise for reveille and being brutally beaten by a guard in April, 1945—just 5 days before the camp was liberated by the British Army.  How absolutely tragic. 5 days. Just 5 days….

Upon her death and the end of the war, her brother sent the pages of her journal to the man she loved, Jean Morawiecki. She had entrusted the pages as she wrote them to the family cook in case the family was taken. Jean held on to the pages for almost fifty years. Helene’s sister wrote an afterward to this translation of this journal and the words of Jean regarding his love of Helene were truly poignant and so sad. A Stolen Life is what the afterward is called and it is surely right.  So many stolen lives. Senselessly stolen lives. 

The Forever House- Linda Acaster – A Review

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This book was interesting but a little confusing.  The main character seemed to leap to many conclusions without much in the way of evidence before she did. AS I read, I actually said out loud a few times, “This woman is whackadoodle.”

I enjoyed the story for the most part, but there were things left hanging at the end that I wanted explained. As a reader, I want all the questions answered especially if it seems there is not going to be a sequel.

The premise of the story was intriguing and the fact that the main character was so strong in her opinions and actions made the tale pleasurable. The beginning was slow. The character spent a lot of time removing wallpaper and drywall and inspecting the room she was renovating. I got a little annoyed at how long that took and the amount of detail conveyed. Some readers may enjoy that kind of slow build, but personally, I am all about getting to the action. 

Once we got to the action, things moved quicker and I enjoyed the pace of the story from about chapter four or five on. The way the protagonist made leaps of logic was interesting and when she went to the police after visiting one particular man made me scratch my head as to how she came to the conclusion that led her there. It was precipitate at the least and a bit crazy at the most. I confess, I was kind of stunned—which may be what the author intended. LOL

I’d have liked the writer to give us closure on the sister-in-law and what was going on there. We got good closure on the main story, but I was disappointed at the plot points left hanging.

This one has me torn.  They were a lot of good points in the story but there were also a number of things that bothered me.  I am going to have to give it 3.5 stars.

New Release- Iris Blobel- New Zealand Romance

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My friend, Iris, has a new release this week: AMAZON LINK

The discovery of her mother’s diaries unravels a secret which sends Lani on a journey to New Zealand …

She lost her mother in an accident. Now, Lani Dekker is determined to meet the man who, according to her mother’s diaries, is her father. He’s not what she expected, a bit on the extravagant side, but she soon warms up to him, thanks no less to Dylan, her father’s neighbour. Despite her attraction to Dylan, she can’t figure out whether he’s a friend or foe.

Dylan Harper is merely going through the daily motions after his wife died in a ski crash. That is, until his life is turned upside down by the arrival of his neighbour’s daughter. Their attraction is instant, even more so when they wake up in the same bed after an earthquake. However, it’s her accusation that his interest in her involves her father’s money rather than their mutual magnetism that derails their newfound bond.

Will finding the truth about her parents be a chance for Lani and Dylan to overcome their differences?

Review- The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman

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I have a little free library at my office and tend to pick up books of all genres and subjects for the neighborhood folks to take and read. I picked up this middle grade book at our local library’s book sale a few months ago. I was intrigued enough by it to read it one Saturday.

It is a book about discovering who your true friends are and how to be a real friend as well.  The story is about two girls who start out with vastly different lives. One is the spoiled, rich girl and the other the poor orphan who is employed as a servant in the magic school the first girl comes to as a new student.

The rich girl makes friends easily, but she is someone who spends money on her friends and buys them gifts. The poor girl has a harder time as the students (as well as the owner of the school- who is a truly awful person) are not kind to the servants and staff at all. As this is gilded age New York City, that wasn’t surprising.

A change of fate is in store for the rich girl and things change drastically in her life. This change in circumstances leads to both girls discovering a lot about themselves as well as about the other people in their lives.  Many surprises and adventures are in store for them. And many discoveries about the world and life await.

This was a great story for 9-13 year olds. It teaches lessons about the true nature of friendship. It shows money doesn’t make you a likeable person or even a good person. It shows that things are not always how they seem and people can disguise their true selves depending on circumstances.

I recommend this for pre-teens but it also has valuable lessons for us adults as well.

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler, a Review

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I bought this book after seeing the author on Jeopardy a couple of weeks ago.

The book was good, but it was one of those books where I didn’t really care for the protagonist. She was just thoroughly unlikeable throughout the book. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her for being trapped in a situation beyond her control and for having lost her job in the economic downturn in 2008. But she just grated on my nerves. She was a total snob and wouldn’t even consider a lower level legal job when she lost the Wall Street job, even to the point of choosing to live in the slums as a better option than taking a job she deemed beneath her. It was pretty weird. She also, to be such a snob, had a victim mentality and was a liar. To the point of lying on her resume which offends me greatly.

So, I asked myself, why are you keeping on reading? I don’t have an answer to that. But read on, I did. Lol.

The villain was very one dimensional and clearly a sociopath. He irritated me too. I wanted to smack him for his pure evilness with no redeeming qualities at all- such a vicious man.

A very big hint was dropped at a point in the story and I kept waiting for someone to mention it and check on that aspect of the protagonist’s story, but it never was mentioned again until the last two pages of the book.

The protagonist was a lawyer (as is the author) but she violated the number one rule you learn as a lawyer. If you’re detained by the police, you never, ever give a statement even if you are innocent as traps lay everywhere in an interrogation room. You invoke your right to counsel, discuss your knowledge of the matter with your lawyer, and make an informed decision with the benefit of counsel on what to share. This character rattled on to the police—not just once, but over and over—and was basically hoisted on her own petard. Her lies caused her way more distress than she ever needed to face. But I guess without that stupid move there would be no book, right?

All that being said, it was a pretty good story, just not really anyone to root for in the tale, except maybe the women who were ultimately saved.

The Bloomsbury Girls- Natalie Jenner- a review

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A one-hundred-year old bookstore.

Post WWII era.

Three very different women with something in common.

One a wife and mother, one a career girl and one a recent graduate of Cambridge University. They all work at the bookstore and share common issues even though that’s not readily apparent at the beginning of the story.

The author takes us on three distinct yet interwoven journeys with these women. Real literary figures appear in the tale and interact with the fictional characters which gives the setting, as well as the prose, a realism that was well done.

The social issues at play here are the end of WWII return of the men from fighting and how that affected the workforce that had been relying on women while the men were gone, the societal expectations of wives and mothers, privilege in society and how that affects behavior, and racism. The author gave us a compelling story for each of the women while weaving in these issues in a finely crafted way.

The path each of the three protagonists took and where they ended up was obvious pretty early on to this reader, but the journey of each was fulfilling and interesting.

Overall, I liked the story and the way the author interwove the various narratives. The setting was perfect as it moved the plot along at a nice pace and contributed to the issues facing the main characters. The bookstore was a little microcosm of society contained in four walls. The time period chosen for the story emphasized the issues as well. Sadly, some of the themes covered in the book are still problematic to this day. Some things seem slow to change in society and this book shows that in many ways.

An enjoyable, thought provoking read that was entertaining as well. Not at all preachy, but the author has a lot to say.

A Rip in Time by Kelley Armstrong, a Review

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

I really liked this story. I’ve read some of Ms. Armstrong’s work in the past and her prose is always easy to read and enjoyable. The premise here of a modern day female detective transported through time when she’s attacked in a dark lane in old Edinburgh is creative and right up this reader’s alley. Being a huge fan of Edinburgh and having experienced the magic of the city firsthand, in this reader’s opinion, it’s the perfect setting for the story. A very atmospheric town and extra creepy in 1869 when the lighting would have been candles or gas lights.

The heroine is plucky and savvy and learns quickly that she’ll have to work hard to try to fit in where most everything is unfamiliar. The work she has to do as a housemaid is tough yet she realizes a roof over her head in those hard times is worth the backbreaking chores. Even the cleaning of the chamber pots.

Ms. Armstrong does a great job evoking the era in housing and the sights/smells of an old city as well as the biases against women and people of mixed race.

The supporting characters are well-drawn and appealing with each having unique qualities. I especially enjoyed the brother and sister and how they interacted with the heroine as well as each other and the local police detective. There were parts that strained credulity, but being as it’s a time travel story, realism was always going to take a back seat.

The heroine was flawed and made mistakes which made the tale more exciting. A perfect heroine is always dull. The person whose body the heroine was transported into was a wicked person and I’m glad the heroine made many attempts to try to make things right with the people the real housemaid harmed.

It appears there will be more stories with these characters which is great as they each have their own unique back story and I, for one, look forward to exploring more of old Edinburgh with them and learning more about their lives.