Quick Review: “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” by Susan Elia MacNeal

A few months ago I read “Princess Elizabeth’s Spy” by Susan Elia MacNeal (see my review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/quick-review-princess-elizabeths-spy-by-susan-elia-mcneal/ . I really enjoyed this period cozy mystery about Maggie Hope, a code breaker and typist to Churchill during WWII. I decided to go back and read the first book in this series: “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary”. I purchased the book from Amazon for my enjoyment (technically my husband purchased it for me because I ordered through his account while he was in Europe on business – lol).

This book introduces Maggie Hope, a British-born but American-raised twenty-something, living in London and working as a typist during WWII. Maggie has a host of friends, both male and female, all with their own subplots/developments. Her parents are deceased for many years and she has been raised by her aunt in Boston. Maggie is a math whiz, and she yearns to be a code breaker. Instead she is a typist. The more Maggie works, though, the more she uncovers. Is there a spy amongst them? What really happened to her father? And is there a coded German message right in front of their faces?

I really enjoyed this first story of the series! MacNeal is a strong writer and I enjoyed how much I learned from reading this novel. This is a cozy mystery in that it is not overly violent or graphic; however, there is a wealth of (what I presume is well-researched!) information about London during WWII, espionage, and life in the 1940’s.

I look forward to more Maggie Hope mysteries from Ms. MacNeal.

Review: THE AVIATOR’S WIFE by Melanie Benjamin

Every now and then I go through a phase where I read all I can on a certain subject. Back in the 1990’s I went through a “female aviator” phase. I read about Amelia Earhart. Then it was Beryl Markham. Then Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I became fascinated with Anne Lindbergh. I read all her diaries. I read biographies. I read her book “A Gift from the Sea”. I read her book of her journey to the “Orient” with Charles. I read her daughter’s Reeve’s memoir of life in the Lindbergh household. I found Anne Morrow Lindbergh incredibly inspiring. She was so smart yet so vulnerable. She was so brave yet lacked confidence. She was so totally human. I felt like we would have been friends. I wanted to write to her and tell her how much she inspired me to be a better person in my own life, but I figured Anne had spent a huge part of her life trying to escape all those adoring fans, she didn’t need another one bothering her in her twilight years. And then I read one day that she had passed away.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Melanie Benjamin had written a fictionalized account based on Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s adult life. I felt incredibly lucky to get a copy through Net Galley – and I LOVED reading this book (NOTE: THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS). Here was the Anne I had read about – shy and sensitive, brilliant and loving – along with her larger than life famous aviator husband Charles. I revisited their first meeting, their courtship, their marriage, their flights, and the birth of their children. I cried once again over the lost Lindbergh baby Charlie. I delighted in Anne’s ever-increasing brood of children. I became indignant at Charles for his unbending practicality, his emotional aloofness, his exacting need to always be correct. And I learned a few new things — Anne had taken a lover in later life. Charles had seven children out of wedlock. The family moved even more times than I realized. Both Anne and Charles were criticized for their ties to the Nazi party.

Melanie Benjamin has done a fabulous job in making Anne Morrow Lindbergh come to life. It is clear she has done her homework. I picture modern-day book groups criticizing Anne for her willingness to be number two to her husband, her choice to stand by him. I would say don’t judge Anne by today’s culture and standards. In the 1920’s and 30’s our society was very different. Anne was also raised as an ambassador’s daughter. A lot of choices were not her own. I did enjoy reading how Anne comes more into her own post WWII.

This book is destined to be one of my Best Reads for 2013! Thank you Ms. Benjamin for writing this story.

thanks Net Galley for my copy!

Review of “Speaking from Among the Bones” by Alan Bradley

Oh how I love Flavia! The eleven-year-old protagonist and chemistry wizard is the heart and soul of Alan Bradley’s cozy mystery series; and like Anne of Green Gables and Jo March, she is so artfully depicted that I just want her to be real. “Speaking from Among the Bones” is Bradley’s fifth Flavia deLuce mystery, and I really enjoyed this installment, especially since the character development continued with the other family members into much greater depth than ever before.

When Flavia discovers the church organist dead and wearing a gas mask, tucked inside the organ case, the exhuming of St. Tancred (for his 500th anniversary) is halted. Flavia has to do her usual undercover sleuthing, while using her vast knowledge of poisons, etc. to figure out who is involved and why. Along the way, various suspects and interesting characters cross paths, but none so interesting as Flavia herself and her family: her rather distracted father, and terrorizing older sisters Daffy (Daphne) and Feely (Ophelia).

Bradley’s writing makes me laugh out loud and Flavia’s voice is strong and unique. She is one of my favorite characters of all time.

While the first installment, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”, is still my favorite of this series, this story is a close second. But readers beware: there is a MAJOR cliffhanger at the end!

THANK YOU to Net Galley and Delacorte Press for my ARC!!

This book comes out at the end of January.

Here’s what I had to say about the first in the series:


Review: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

Since I loved “Gone Girl”, my brother-in-law gave me “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn for Christmas. This is an earlier novel by her, her debut novel in fact, but it has the same fast-paced, can’t-put-it-down quality that “Gone Girl” has.

“Sharp Objects” follows Chicago reporter Camille Preaker as she returns to her hometown and dysfunctional family to cover the murders of two young girls. Camille has never fully dealt with the death of her young sister years ago, and she has never truly met or bonded with her step-sister who is thirteen. The deaths of the two victims are both bizarre and disturbing, and Camille gets far too involved in the investigation. Camille’s own ghosts come back to haunt her. She’s a former “cutter” – carving words into her body. She has a promiscuous past. She has serious issues with her relationship with her mother. The list goes on. The more Camille unveils the darkness underlying the relationships in her town, the more she revisits her own past and inner self.

This book was a fascinating read for me as it felt like both a psychological thriller and a mystery story. Right when things became so uncomfortable that I almost had to put the book down and stop reading, there’d be a reprieve.  There were some disturbing things in here – but they almost always were more hints of malice and depravity as opposed to graphic descriptions.

Gillian Flynn is a gifted writer. I liked this book but I can’t say I “enjoyed” it — I “enjoy” things that are lighter and happier. It certainly stayed in my mind after reading it, much like “Gone Girl” did.

If you liked “Gone Girl” then you will most probably enjoy “Sharp Objects”, too.

Here’s what I had to say about “Gone Girl”:


Getting Cozy! Two Reviews: “Hiss and Hers” (Agatha Raisin) by MC Beaton and “The Twelve Clues of Christmas” (Royal Spyness) by Rhys Bowen

As you all know, I love my cozy mysteries! I recently read two new ones: one which I got at my library and one which I received from my husband for Christmas.

“Hiss and Hers” is the latest Agatha Raisin mystery. I just love cranky yet vulnerable Agatha! In this installment, Agatha, along with half the village, has a mad crush on the local gardener. Sadly he turns up murdered. Agatha is determined to figure out who killed him, but as she investigates she learns that just about every but her had been sleeping with the victim. There is no shortage of suspects, along with a couple of subplots as well. While I do love these Agatha mysteries, this one had me a bit befuddled in its quick wrap up and in the number of people I was trying to keep track of, though I had guessed the murderer early on. The “hiss” refers to the murder “weapon” – poisonous snakes.

For Christmas I received “The Twelve Clues of Christmas”- the latest Royal Spyness mystery. I do so love reading historical cozy mysteries (this one is in the early 1930’s in England). Georgie Rannoch, our heroine, has just the right amount of spunk, intelligence, and awkwardness to make her likable. For this story, Georgie is staying at a manor house and serving as a hostess during their “Aunthentic English Christmas” event. Unfortunately, locals start turning up dead on a regular basis. Georgie joins forces with the dashing Darcy to uncover just what is happening in this sleepy little town. One thing I loved about this book is that Georgie and Darcy’s relationship is finally progressing – yeah! I thought this novel was cleverly plotted – though perhaps a bit far-fetched. It was an enjoyable read. And can I just say how much I love the character of her maid, Queenie?