Monday, July 31, 2017

Maggie Hope in Occupied Paris During WWII

With the help of the Queen, Maggie Hope is back in occupied Paris. Her half-sister, Elise, escaped from the Gestapo. Maggie wants to find her and bring her back to England, but does Elise want to be rescued? Maggie is also hoping to contact SOE agent Erica Calvert. She has been captured and her research, vital to the Normandy invasion is missing.

SOE agents, Hugh and Sarah, Maggie’s friends, are also in Paris working undercover as entertainers and sending information vital to the invasion back to England. The whole enterprise is threatened by the existence of a double agent. Maggie must discover this agent before the invasion plans are leaked to the Germans.

Suspense is the keynote of this Maggie Hope novel. The streets of Paris are eerily silent except for the Nazi’s Mercedes creeping along. She is working undercover, but any false step could land her in the hands of the Gestapo. Maggie is an excellent character, some of her feats seem almost superhuman, but she’s also vulnerable and recognizes the danger to herself and her friends in occupied Paris.

The historical detail in these novels is well researched, but the author doesn’t let the history get in the way of a suspenseful story. The somber atmosphere makes the story particularly nail-biting. In fact, this story is almost too hard to read at points. I cared about the characters and hated it when they were captured and tortured by the Gestapo.

If you enjoy historical suspense with a great female character, this is a terrific book.

I received this book from Random House / Ballantine Bantam Dell for this review.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One Hundred Years Apart Two Women Find Temptations in the Dakota

Sara Smythe, illegitimate daughter of an earl, finds in Theodore Camden’s offer to be managerette of the Dakota, the fabulous apartment he designed in New York City, the chance to make something of herself. The temptation to see more of Theo and experience gilded age society even at a distance is hard to resist.

Bailey Camden, fresh out of rehab, has tasted the riches of New York too exuberantly. Now the ex-party girl and interior designer is homeless, out of work, and out of resources. Bailey is not related to Theo. However, her grandfather was Theo’s ward. Bailey grew up with her “cousin” Melinda. Now Melinda is her only hope to get her life back together.

Melinda hires Bailey to oversee the renovation of the Camden apartment in the Dakota. Although Bailey doesn’t like Melinda’s ideas, which destroy much of the historical detail in the apartment, she has no choice but to help if she wants a roof over her head.

Bailey meets Renvo, the building manager, who shares her interest in preserving the historical detail of the old building. In the storeroom where he keeps all the moldings and furniture no one wants in their modern apartment, Bailey discovers Sara Smythe’s belongings and unravels the secrets of her family.

The gilded age in New York is beautifully depicted in the novel. The changes that take place over the hundred years make a vivid contrast between the modern Dakota and the original building. The descriptions are compelling,
so much so that the Dakota becomes a character in the novel.

This is another novel, of which there are a number lately, told from the point of view of two characters separated by many years. Usually, I find one or the other character more interesting, but in this case, I was captivated by both Sara and Bailey. They are strong, independent women who experience difficult trials and are not beaten by them.

If you enjoy a novel with a complex plot and rich historical detail, you’ll enjoy this book.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dark Secrets, A Romantic Tangle, and Regrets Haunt a Small Village

Duneen is a quiet village, but beneath the surface resentment, fear, and sorrow flourish. Sergeant PJ Collins is the guard in the village. He’s overweight, clumsy, and afraid that he will never be a real policeman capable of solving big crimes. His chance comes with old bones are discovered in the field of one of the farms.

The villagers are sure the bones belong to Tommy Burke. He owned the farm and was engaged to be married to Brid. However, another women, Evelyn Ross, one of the tragic Ross sisters, was in love with him. Neither of the women have gotten over the fact that he just disappeared.

Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne from Cork is assigned to the case. PJ resents being given the lesser role. This is his community. He continues the investigation even though Dunne doesn’t think much will come of it. However, it’s PJ investigation that brings the case to a head exposing resentments and secrets going back twenty-five years.

The is not a fast paced thriller. The book starts slowly with history of the village and the families living there who will play a role in the drama. I found it interesting at first, but I thought it went on too long.

The mystery is not hard to unravel. However, the main point of the book is the development of the characters. PJ, Evelyn, and Brid all have to face their demons as the events from the past are revealed.

The description of the village draws you into the world of secrets and regrets. The close-minded, judgmental villagers are well portrayed. It’s the way the scene is woven into the action that makes this novel interesting.

If you enjoy a mystery with historical background and good character development, you may enjoy this book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

A Sojourn in Italy as a Spy for the Queen

Georgiana Rannoch is eager to marry Darcy, but being in line to the British throne, if only thirty-fifth, she must have permission to renounce her claim so the marriage can proceed. With Darcy off on another mission, Georgiana is not sure how to accomplish this. She also wants to help her friend, Belinda, who is in Italy expecting a baby.

Unexpectedly, the queen comes to her rescue. The Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson are attending a house party in Italy not far from where Belinda is staying. Worried that Mrs. Simpson may have obtained her divorce and push the Prince to marry her, the queen wants a spy at the party. Georgiana is a school friend of the hostess so being invited to the party is easy, and in return, the queen will push to get Georgiana permission to marry Darcy.

The house party starts well, but Georgiana’s mother arrives, the house is filled with Nazi sympathizers, and one of the guests is murdered. With so much happening, the party becomes dangerous for Georgiana who is only eager to help Belinda.

I enjoyed this book. Georgiana is a delightful character. She does make rather clumsy moves, but it all works in the end. I keep hoping she and Darcy will eventually get together. It seems quite cruel to have so many obstacles in their path to matrimony.

The plot is clever and full of twists. It is fairly easy to guess the culprit, but it’s not obvious until near the end. The setting in an Italian villa on a beautiful lake is well done. It’s a place I’d love to visit, and the period details are correct.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical suspense.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Food as Comfort, Social Status, or a Weapon

Laura Shapiro looks at six women and how what they ate, or didn’t eat, shaped their lives and the lives of those around them. She begins with Dorothy Wordsworth. While she was the caretaker and companion of her brother, her meals were nutritious. When she slid in to dementia after having been displaced by his wife as the main female in Wordsworth's life, she ate constantly.

Rosa Lewis rose from being a servant to becoming the foremost chef of her age. Her ticket to high society was food. Eva Braun, was more into champagne than nutritious food. Although Hitler was a vegetarian, he binged on champagne and sugar.

Eleanor Roosevelt used food as a weapon. Angered by her husband’s affair with Lucy Mercer, she served some of the worst meals ever encountered in the White House. Barbara Pym’s novels are filled with the type of food nice English ladies served to their clerics. People may think the food was bland, but Pym presents it as a good background to the society of the day.

Helen Gurley brown appreciated food, only as it related to the man in her life. I suspect that could be said for the other women, but Brown indulged her man while being practically anorexic herself.

This is a fascinating book. I hadn’t realized how much we can learn about people, not only women, from how they approach food. The book doesn’t psychoanalyze these women, but some themes are evident such as Eleanor Roosevelt using food as pay back. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in how women express themselves through food.

I received this book from Viking Penguin for this review.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fighting in Burma During WWII

Captain Con Reynolds leads a small group of special operations forces in Burma. They’re behind enemy lines, cut off from the main troops. They’re joined by Kachin troops, native to Burma, and are in contact with the British.

This war story is based on the experience of the author during WWII. The action is filled with details that only someone who experienced the war on the ground would notice and include in the narrative. If you enjoy war stories, this is an excellent one.

The book, however, is more than an action adventure. The characters are in many ways the focus of the story. Con Reynolds, the main character, grows in experience and understanding as he leads his men in a difficult situation. He also searches for love with Carla. However, the romance is perhaps the weakest part of the story.

The character I liked best was Nautauung, an old Kachin fighter. He provides the seasoning of experience for the young fighters.

Since the book was originally published in 1957, the writing is looser than we expect to see in books today. The author has a penchant for adverbs that can become wearing. However, it doesn’t detract in a major way from the action or the character development.

I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about the war in Burma, or just like war stories.

I received this book from Open Road Media for this review.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Hacker and the FBI Agent

Hannah Whelan wants justice. A tragedy deprived her of her father and her sister is now incapacitated. She’s a tech genius and the way she decides to get revenge is by hacking into the companies she thinks are responsible for the hurt in her life. Her hacking moniker is Freedom Overdrive.

Mason Kohler is an FBI agent. He’s experienced and has a reputation for solving cases. After his brother’s death, he needs a fresh start. Unfortunately, he gets stuck with an assignment to bring down the hacker, Freedom Overdrive.

Hannah makes it her business to meet Mason. It’s absurdly easy. She bumps into him in the coffee shop line. Soon they’re involved. She’s using him, but she’s also falling for him.

The plot is innovative, the hacker and the FBI agent in a romance. However, with these characters, it just didn’t work for me. Hannah is a smart hacker, and she’s using Mason to get information. He’s supposed to be a super agent, but he doesn’t see what she’s doing, and it’s so obvious it’s embarrassing.

I didn’t think the characters were realistic. Hannah comes across as very hard boiled. She thinks she has a mission and that excuses what she does. On the other hand, Mason seems overly feminine. He cries and blushes. I think it’s nice to have a sensitive hero, but Mason overdoes it.

This isn’t the best romance I’ve read, nor is it the worst. If you are intrigued by the hacker aspect, you may enjoy the book, but beware of the cliff-hanger ending. Unless you love the characters and are panting to learn more, the loose ends can be very off-putting.

I received this book from Loveswept for this review.

Save Your Project from a Poorly Conceived Plan

Red teaming isn’t perfect, but used well it can save your project. The military, as Hoffman points out in the introduction, has a long history of using red teams. Recently their training program has been formalized. Hoffman was lucky to be allowed to attend a session to use the experience to bring red teaming to industry.

In addition to recounting the history of red teaming, Hoffman shares his experience in the military training course. This part of the book is filled with interesting anecdotes showing how red teaming, primarily in the military, has been used to save a planned troop exercise, or actual war situation.

In the second part of the book, Hoffman describes the tools used by the red team to facilitate critical thinking, come up with creative solutions, and stress the assumptions of the project to assure that all bases have been covered. He also describes the type of individuals best suited to read teaming. These need to be sharp people, good at critical thinking who are not easily cowed by upper management.

I loved the book. Having been involved in extensive projects in industry, I can see how valuable this type of exercise can be in relooking a proposed plan or project. Too often, the planners get so involved in how to make the plan work that they narrow their focus and miss the ways the plan or project can fail.

I highly recommend this book, if you’re responsible for developing a plan in a large corporation, or if you own a business and want to assure the success of your plans for the future. It’s important to realize that some of the techniques don’t require large expenditures to be successful. Anyone can do it and with practice can become good at it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Lush Tale of the Occult, Art, and Love

Delphine Duplessi has a rare talent. Dating from the time as a child when she lost her sight, she is able to create shadow portraits. Drawing blindfolded, Delphine creates not the person’s face, but the secrets hiding behind the mask. In the world of Paris and New York after WWI, she becomes a celebrity. People are looking to the future, wanting amusement to forget the horrors of war.

After a devastating experience in New York where tragically a man dies, she returns to her native Cannes. Unable to paint she tries to recover from the horror of her New York experience and come to terms with the reason she left Paris five years ago.

Delphine has an unusual heritage. She is descended from LaLune, the artist who sold her soul to reclaim her dead lover. Now her female descendants are cursed being able to love only one man. Delphine finds that man in Mathieu, a bookbinder she falls in love with in Paris. Trying to help Mathieu escape his demons, she draws him, but sees herself as the instrument of his destruction, so she flees.

Now that she’s back in France, her twin, Sebastian, wants her to return to painting the lucrative portraits that make his gallery special. Delphine tries to avoid returning to the shadow portraits, but finally agrees to paint a chateau where an occult classic, the Book of Abraham, is supposedly hidden.

The descriptions in this book, from the glorious drawing rooms of Paris and New York, to the lovely countryside of southern France, are full of colors and beautiful shapes. It’s almost like reading a painting.

If you are interested in the occult, the author uses the background of the Cathars, and Delphine’s own family history to weave a spell around the story. The plot is complex full of twists and unusual, sometimes famous, characters. The time after WWI was when Picasso, the Fitzgeralds, and other celebrities were spending the summer in the south of France.

I enjoyed the characters. Mathieu is particularly delightful. Delphine is a well drawn character, but by the end of the book I was tired of hearing how she was protecting everyone, not realizing her own part in the reality of her interactions. Sebastian is a hard character to judge. I didn’t realize until the very end why I felt ambivalent about him.

I highly recommend this book if you love romance and beautiful descriptions.

I received this book from Atria for this review.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Tough Female PI with a Past

Sunday Night, ex -military and ex-police, has become a recluse living alone on an island off the coast of South Carolina. Injured in an incident that left her blind in one eye, she opted to leave the police force rather than ride a desk. Although she doesn’t want to get involved in investigations again, Beau, her foster father, brings her a case she can’t easily resist.

Opaline Drucker, a wealthy Charleston lady wants to hire her to find her granddaughter, Stella. Stella’s mother and brother were killed when a bomb blew up a Jewish school they were touring. Stella has been missing for over a year. The police have given up hope she’s alive, but Opaline thinks differently and is willing to pay very well to find her granddaughter.

Two Nights is a major departure from Reichs’s previous books featuring Temperance Brennan. This book is much more a gritty PI novel. There’s plenty of violence. The plot is clever and moves quickly. However, I did feel that Reichs wasn’t playing fair to keep Sunday’s background hidden until the very end. For me, knowing the background would have made the story more believable.

I had trouble warming up to Sunday. She’s hard-bitten and standoffish using quips to distance herself from people in conversation. It was amusing in the early chapters, but became wearing. He brother, Gus, is also featured in the story. He is a much easier character to get in touch with.

If you like PI novels with a tough heroine, this is a good book. I think if I hadn’t had the experience of loving Reichs’ previous novels, I would have felt more comfortable with this one. It’s a good read. I recommend it for a summer weekend.

I received this book from Penguin Random House for this review.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Parrot Brings a Family Together

Thirty years ago, Millie walked out on her sons, Grinder and Lucas. Now she’s dead and her friend Janice wants them to come and deal with her effects. The brothers aren’t quite sure what effects they’ll have to deal with, but they are truly surprised to realize that one of them is an African Gray parrot named Paul.

Paul is in the throes of grief having lost his beloved Millie. They’re not quite sure how to deal with Paul, but as they listen to his sayings, they begin to heal from the past. Their lives change and they find they can experience forgiveness and redemption.

The book touches on a difficult situation, a mother who abandons her children. While not hilariously funny, the author is able to use humor to tell the story without having it become tragic or maudlin. Grinder and Lucas are good characters. Their give and take is realistic for two brothers that work together and have experienced the vicissitudes of growing up in a ruptured family. The parrot, Paul, is the best character. You can’t help but love him.

This is a worthwhile book to read. It’s a very human story of brothers coping with and forgiving an absent mother.

I received this book from PR by the Book for this review.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Useful Information for Planning or Managing Your Career

Whether you’re a new graduate, or someone who’s looking to advance your career, this book is packed with valuable information. The book covers what you want in a job (Part One), how to find a new job (Part Two), and skills for succeeding in your new job (Part Three).

None of the information is unique to this book, but the approach to job hunting and more important succeeding in your new job is well thought out. Many people have a vague, or not so vague, idea of what they’d like to do. Less frequently, job hunters have thought out what they value in a workplace environment. This book provides checklists and questionnaires to help you identify your values. If you want flexible hours, as opposed to being constantly on call, the requirements of your position will be a major factor in how happy and successful you are in your new job.

Although sections one and two are valuable and filled with tips for interviews and how to network, I found section three the most interesting. Too many people don’t think about how to succeed after they land the dream job. People skills are a major factor in success. Some people may be born with them, but anyone can learn them. If you’re already in a job and perhaps unsatisfied, I recommend reading section three and trying to hone your skills before looking to move on.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Lives of Two Young Women Writers Intertwine at a Writing Desk

Tenley Roth, daughter and great-great-granddaughter of acclaimed novelists, has received a national award for her first novel. She’s under contract for her second novel, but a severe case of writer’s block has her incapacitated. When her estranged mother, Blanch, begs her to come to Florida to help with her chemo treatments, Tenley agrees. Her fiance doesn’t want her to go and races off to Paris to attend a screenwriter’s symposium. In Florida, she meets Jonas, a furniture designer with a large raucous family. An only child growing up without a mother, she is drawn to Jonas and his family, but she’s still engaged, sort of.

In the early 1900’s another fledgling writer is having difficulty. Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of a Gilded Age millionaire. She’s expected to marry well and carry on the family’s social position that her mother has fought for. Birdie cares nothing for society, doesn’t want to marry the man chosen for her, and is in love with an impoverished English earl.

The two women a century apart write at the same desk. It becomes a symbol for both of them of the ability to create. The writing desk has moved from New York, to Florida, but still it inspires these women.

The Christian fiction in this book is very apparent. Both young women pray for what they desire and feel an inner voice telling them to not be afraid. The story is told in alternating chapters about Tenley and Birdie. While both stories are interesting, I found Birdie’s story more compelling. She is a strong woman caught in the trap of her family’s ambitions and in the early 1900s it was almost impossible to escape.

I recommend this book if you enjoy historical romance and Christian fiction.

I received this book from Booklook Bloggers for this review.