Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

Book Review – His Majesty’s Hope

Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Back to writing book reviews!
I’m in the process of writing a blog dedicated to book SERIES….and mainly how much I love them. I don’t like saying good bye to characters in books. This pretty much sums it up:
With series-books, it’s different. You read a book and then get reunited with most of the characters in the next adventure. Now luckily, I’ve started reading a lot of series when the author was at least onto book nine. That way I don’t have to wait for the next book. It’s often waiting for me right there in the nearest bookstore/library.
Not so much with the Maggie Hope mysteries. I started reading this as soon as it came out. I was able to read an ARC of the second book and the good folks at Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read the third one that will be released this May.
What I’ve recently finished:
**His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal**
What is it about?
So Maggie broke codes in newspapers in book one and saved Princess Elizabeth from being kidnapped in book two. For book three, Maggie goes International!!
At first that might sound exciting however she’s heading to Nazi Germany undercover as part of the Special Operations Executive to plant bugs in offices of elite Nazis…some of whom make it difficult for Maggie to maintain her cover because the temptation to mix personal and professional runs quite high. I’ll leave it at that
Why did I read this?
Simple: I read book one a few months ago and I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! (That’s literally what I said for the last Maggie Hope book I reviewed.)
What impressed me about this book?
Again, MacNeal writes of strong females from both sides of the war and coming from different points of view. Primarily, we see this in Maggie, obviously. Additionally we see it in the characters of Ms. Hess and her daughter, Elise Hess. The former is a higher up in the Nazi party and the latter is a young German woman who challenges the state by joining the Nazi Resistance.
There was a realness to this book that I really appreciated. I won’t include any spoilers but I will say that Maggie, at the end of the book, is not the strong head-fast woman we’ve loved in the previous books. Many of her personal skeletons come out of the closet in addition to seeing some pretty horrific things in Nazi Germany. To be blunt, at the end of the book, her shit is a mess, but in a very real way, which I appreciate! I have no doubt that she’ll get her situation settled… we all have those moments, right? But, by the end of the book, our girl Maggie is left confused about personal issues in her life, some of which she wants to deal with and others she’d just as soon sweep under a floor. She is also left with dealing with horrific acts she witnessed first-hand in Nazi Germany.
What disappointed me about this book?

I didn’t quite see a connection between how one of the elite Nazis was told of her daughter hiding captives the state wanted. (I’m purposely vague because I don’t want to give away too much, so, apologies if this leaves more questions than answers.

Historical Relevance:
KNITTING SAVES LIVES!!!!!!!!!!!! TRUE FACT!
So I’m friends with MacNeal on Facebook and she taunted—I mean jokingly told me that knitting plays a role in this book. While it might not have saved her life knitting did let Maggie get messages across to Britain. …which led me to this site that lists some historical events where knitting played a role. Or this gentleman who has a pair of size 13 needles to thank for helping him escape.
and, not for nothin’, my buddy Sidney told me that a size 1 DPN has helped her pick a lock when she misplaced her keys.
What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?
I just got some sad news about this series. It started with two books a year but now they’ll only come out once a year. The author now has no right to complain that we have to wait till January for season 4 of Downton. (Said with love, of course, Susan!! )
Overall Grade?.

Book Review – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal**

GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

OK I read this book in June because I received an “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Words cannot express how excited I was!

But…

Kermit can:

I’m not someone who is usually picked for something special but I received an ARC of the book and I was just so excited!!

What is it about?
Last time we left Maggie, she was training to be part of MI5 after spending some time being a secretary to Mr. Churchill. Unfortunately, while Ms. Hope is amazingly bright, she ran into some issues with physical training. Anyone who spends more time with her nose in a book as opposed to running must know that that can be a…humbling experience

She thinks her first mission is going to be on the front line of the war but unfortunately she is sent to be a tutor to young Princess Elizabeth in Windsor Castle.

She is asked to be an “‘undercover sponge.’” This does does not sit well with Ms. Hope. There was a particular time when she stands up to her handlers who are simply trying to give her her assignment and not allow her any context:

I’m through allowing myself to be confined to so-called ‘women’s work.’ I’m also through with patronizing men giving me half-truths and withholding information. This will end here and now.” [page 43]

Go Maggie!

One might think that this is a fluff assignment but they’re quickly proved wrong when they read of the murder of one of the ladies in waiting at court. The murder at court puts everyone one edge and Maggie realizes that not only is she to be a tutor to the Princesses but she’s instructed to be a body guard of sorts as well.

Why did I read this?
Simple: I read book one a few months ago and I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!

What impressed me about this book?
The suspense. Like I’ve said, I haven’t read many suspense books but these stories continue to have a complex enough plot that it was intriguing but not too complex that it was a 900 page book you have to invest two months in.

Like always it was refreshing to see string females on both good and bad sides. That is always a plus in my book!

I also appreciated the upstairs/downstairs dynamic in this book. It’s the Downton Abbey fan in me coming out… Again… but it was interesting reading about the background of the British royalty during a war literally occurring in their back yard.

What disappointed me about this book?
Would you believe me if I say that I can’t think of anything? It was a wonderful ride! I remember having difficulty keeping people straight in the first book but it wasn’t much of an issue with this book.

Oh I’ve got a disappointment! There wasn’t a preview of book three at the end of the book because I was reading an ARC. 

Historical Relevance:
Marion Crawford was the Princess’ nanny wrote a book entitled The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford. This book has sparked my interest because there has been so much written about the Queen’s reign as monarch that I can’t help but wonder about her childhood. Did she hate broccoli? Did she really need things she was working on while studying to be in a certain order like MacNeil alludes to in the book? This has sparked my curiosity!

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

 

 

Overall Grade?.

I’ve recently started a series after more than a dozen books have already been published. Unfortunately with Maggie Hope, this is not the case. So this is a good representation of my thoughts right now:

taken from Random House’s Pinterest Board “Book Humor”

 

 

 

Book Review – The House at Tyneford

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
Elise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna in the late 1930s. As it becomes more and more unsafe, her family, used to a sophisticated and rather elite life, separate and attempt to leave the country. Elise goes to work as a maid in the House at Tyneford. The story centers on this rather dramatic change in her lifestyle–from elite to service.

Why did I read this?
I love Downton Abbey and naturally I wanted to read some stories set during that time. I found this helpful list on Goodreads and mingled. Granted, The House at Tyneford is set during World War II (as opposed to the first) but it still seemed interesting to me.

What impressed me about this book?

  1. The author clearly gives an impression of the changes Elisa had to go through, as I’ve mentioned before.
  2. The descriptions of the setting. I felt like I was there! (and usually this kind of text, I won’t lie, makes me want to skip a few paragraphs ;-)

 

What disappointed me about this book?
A lot.  This story’s excitement is centered on the house mater”s son, Kit. I won’t include spoilers, of course, but I will say Elise and Kit form a bond and reading this relationship develop was enjoyable. Unfortunately, he’s not present during much of the book so I finished the book almost glad that it was over. It’s a shame too because this story’s premise had potential to be exciting. Unfortunately, for me, it just wasn’t.

Historical Relevance:
For this section I wanted to concentrate on Jews in hiding as servants. Unfortunately no numbers exist (and I don’t think they ever will) on how many Jews fled Nazi-occupied countries under the premise of a job elsewhere in service. That said, I did find some interesting stories centered on women like Elise, who escaped to serve another family AND there were some resistance movements where servants were a pivotal part in plotting and carrying out work of their movements or getting information on the Nazi’s next steps.

  • There is mention here of a maid serving a pivotal role in the Belarusian Resistance during World War II.
  • Here is a story of a woman working as a maid in the Gestapo office where she overheard plans to arrest the father of someone she knew. Upon hearing that, she warned that family
  • There is an exhibit at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in New York that broadly shows the roles children played in their hiding during the war. Working as field laborers, farmers or servants was quite an effective disguise.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Book Review – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
What a fabulous beginning to a series!

Margaret Hope finds herself in England as World War II breaks out. She put her graduate program at MIT on hold to go across the pond from the United States to sell her grandmother’s house. Clearly trying to sell a home in a city where war is about to break out makes for a questionable housing market so she opens the house up to a few young women to be her roommates. We meet her a few months into the war and then the reader slowly starts to learn of her back story. Maggie was raised by her aunt who lives in the US after her parents’ death. This aunt is apprehensive of Margret’s presence in the UK because she fears Margaret will come across the truth about her childhood. I will stop there ;-)

Now let’s throw in some historical events! Margaret receives a job as a typist in the Prime Minister’s office (hence they book’s title). She was looked over for a job as a PM’s Analyst because that position was not suited for a females. As the PM’s office concentrates on the movement of Germany and wonders when the United States will be involved, the country starts to forget the IRA until they start conducting random acts of violence throughout the city of London! Thanks to Margaret’s wit and smarts she is able to break the codes she sees but the process of her doing that is really quite thrilling.

Why did I read this?
Honestly, I think I was wondering around Amazon one weekend and found it. Didn’t I say that last time? :-) It was available in Target one evening with I was there.

What impressed me about this book?
This was one exciting story with a very very likable heroine! This, I do believe, was my first spy book and I liked that it was fast-paced without getting overwhelming

What disappointed me about this book?
…but I will say, and maybe this is just a personal quirk, that I had a very difficult time keeping characters straight. And honestly, if that’s the only gripe I have about the book, then I say it is still a keeper.

Historical Relevance:
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Margaret, in a way….to be so smart but not be taken seriously whether it was in 10 Downing Street or in Britain’s security agency, Mi5. It didn’t take till the 1970s for women to be accepted as full officers in Mi5. Women held mainly secretarial jobs and did not do so for long. When they got married, they would be “encouraged” to go home to take care of their families. I found myself applauding Margaret throughout this book. She showed her intelligence in really smart ways. I can’t help but wonder how much of a typical woman of the times she was? I would venture that she definitely stood out from the typical woman of the times. And, because of that, I very much look forward to the next book, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?

Rating: ★★★★½

Book Review – “The Sealed Letter” & “Her Royal Spyness”

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Actually more but I wanted to do a quick review of two of them.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue.

Goodreads description:
England, 1864
: Miss Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a “woman of business” and a spinster pioneer of the British women’s movement. Distracted from her beloved cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage to the stodgy Admiral Harry Codrington. What begins as an effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama muckier than any Hollywood tabloid could invent; with stained dresses, accusations of adultery, counterlcaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy many lives.

My Take:
One of the main reasons I love reading is because I care about the characters. Whether I want them to go away, die, get with their crush and/or survive. As morbid as it might sound, wanting a character to die is some degree of caring. Sure, it’s certainly not nice but it is caring.

With this particular book, however, I didn’t care about any of the characters. I guess that’s to be expected. No one comes out looking wonderful in a divorce. Fido Faithfull is someone I would probably admire if I read about her in history books–she advocated for female independence and employment during a time when women were limited to needle point and seeing guests. But in this book she is so very naive and, because of that, she is led to believe some pretty inaccurate things that the reader is probably seeing straight through. Helen Codrington, the wife in this divorce case is incredibly selfish and heartless. Henry Codrington, like many men of the time, simply wanted a wife to be seen and not heard.

I guess what I found so interesting however was the British history of divorce. It was very hard to get a divorce in Britain prior to 1857 because the only way one could get one was through an act of Parliament! (So needless to say you had to be very rich to get one) Which makes me wonder–how many divorces were direly needed but never received? How many women were beaten within an inch of their life or even to death with little to no hope of ever having an end to their abusive marriage? You can see the history of divorce in Britain here and you can see just how much the woman was at the disadvantage with many of these laws.

Final Rating? Three out of Five Stars

 

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Goodreads description:
Her ridiculously long name is Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch. And she is flat broke. As the thirty-fourth in line for the throne, she has been taught only a few things, among them, the perfect curtsey. But when her brother cuts off her allowance, she leaves Scotland, and her fianc Fish-Face, for London, where she has:

a) worked behind a cosmetics counter-and gotten sacked after five hours
b) started to fall for a quite unsuitable minor royal
c) made some money housekeeping (incognita, of course), and
d) been summoned by the Queen to spy on her playboy son.

Then an arrogant Frenchman, who wants her family’s 800-year-old estate for himself, winds up dead in her bathtub. Now her most important job is to clear her very long family name

My Take:
Think:

Bridget Jones + Royal Title + Set in England during the 1930s. Then you’ll have this book :-)

What a lovely and quirky lil mystery! Don’t get me wrong–I feel very odd describing a murder mystery as light and fun but…it was!

I’ve been enjoying books about English royalty and this is one of them. I particularly like that the royalty component is from the point of view of such a loving character as Georgie–someone considered royalty (albeit 34th in line from the throne), yet we also see that she has her own life and own set of issues separate from English royalty at the time.

Georgie is requested by the Queen to spy on her first born son and his romance with American, Wallace Simpson, while trying to save her brother from being hung for a murder he did not commit. Pretty busy few weeks! But through all this, Georgie realizes that she does not have to be dependent on her family for money, servants or food. Not to mention fun!

Georgie is a woman with many layers. She doesn’t want to rush into a marriage and her friends encourage her to have sex too! Shocking I know! She has her fair share of emotional issues with her mom too. (Or “mom” as I’d like to say.) She’s clumsy and quirky too, which makes her so endearing. A woman with a royal title but even she has issues with polite manners :-P

I love me a nice murder mystery and I certainly like one that can make me laugh too! I look forward to reading the rest of the books in Bowen’s series! Four out of Five stars.

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