Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Last Books

Simon from Stuck in a Book started this but I couldn't stop with 10!

1. The last book I gave up on - probably The Underground Railroad for my book group.   I am sure it is well written and compelling but the first chapter was so violent and depressing I put it down until it was due at the lib.

2. The last books I reread – the entire Flambards series; how I love these books by K.M. Peyton.
3. The last book I bought for myself – The War That Saved My Life.  Initially, I read this from the library but recently I bought one copy for myself and one for my niece Katherine, who also loved it.

4. The last book I lost - I lent my hardcover copy of Betsy in Spite of Herself to a friend who was going to Milwaukee with her daughter.  I am sure it is somewhere in their house so perhaps not lost forever.
5. The last book I wrote in the margins – when I was in law school, I wrote in the margins of my textbooks but I don’t do this normally.   However, within the last couple months I came across an error in a library book and corrected it in light pencil.  Someone (perhaps not a librarian) will thank me.

6. The last book I had signed – The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 by George Howe Colt at the Harvard Coop in November.  You can’t get an ebook signed now, can you?

7. The last book I said I read but actually didn't – The Faerie Queene - despite being a 16th century History and Lit major.  Sorry, Edmund Spenser!

8. The last book I had to replace – Autumn Term by Antonia Forest.   Both my copies are missing and although I hope they will turn up, I didn’t want to risk not being able to find one so I ordered a paperback from England several months ago.

9. The last book I argued over – Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane.   I was practically (but not quite) speechless when some of my book group did not appreciate one of my absolute favorite books.  

10. The last book I couldn’t find – I read about an Irish mystery series by Jo Spain but the first entry, With Our Blessing, had not been published in the US so I had to order it from England.

11. The last book I insisted someone read – The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen.  This is the first in a great series about two detectives.
12. The last book I gave as a gift – I like to give every reader in my family a book for Christmas.  One I gave this year was The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, part of an appealingly repackaged Crime Classics series I saw in England (and had to restrain myself from bringing them all home) from the British Library.  I chose this one for my mother because of our trip to the other Cambridge in April.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar

Thank you to Sprite Writes for including me in the Virtual Advent Tour she has organized for four years. For those who don’t know, Advent is a liturgical season leading up to Christmas which includes the four preceding Sundays. Growing up, my family often had an advent wreath with pink and purple candles which we loved lighting before dinner.
Katherine reads the enclosed note to Winona

As an adult, my favorite holiday tradition is the Betsy-Tacy ornament exchange. Every year, the fans of Maud Hart Lovelace’s beloved Betsy-Tacy series, set in turn of the century Minnesota, participate in secret ornament exchange to honor a Christmas shopping expedition our heroines made in 1903 or so with their friend Winona Root:
There on a long table Christmas tree ornaments were set out for sale.  There were boxes and boxes full of them, their colors mingling in bewildering iridescence.  There were large fragile balls of vivid hues, there were gold and silver balls; there were tinsel angels, shining harps and trumpets, gleaming stars.
“Here,” said Betsy, “here we buy.”She looked at Winona, bright-eyed, and Winona looked from her to the resplendent table.“Nothing,” Tacy tried to explain, “is so much like Christmas as a Christmas-tree ornament.” “You get a lot for ten cents,” said Tib. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas on the Island (Book Review)

Title: Christmas on the Island
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, October 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: On the remote Scottish island of Mure, winter is stark, windy, and icy—yet the Christmas season is warm and festive . . .
It’s a time for getting cozy in front of a fire and spending time in the one pub on the island with the people you love—unless, of course, you’ve accidentally gotten pregnant by your ex-boss, and don’t know how to tell him. In the season for peace and good cheer, will Flora find the nerve to reveal the truth to her nearest and dearest? Will handsome but troubled future-father Joel think she’s the bearer of glad tidings—or is this Christmas going to be as bleak as the Highlands in midwinter? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Message from Absalom (Book Review)

Title: Message from Absalom
Author: Anne Armstrong Thompson
Publication: Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1975 (available as an ebook from Endeavor Press)
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Susannah Clarke is former CIA, now safely in the antiques business. On an extended group tour of Bulgaria, she encounters John Novak, once a colleague but now operating under cover. He recognizes Susannah and secretly visits her, arranging for her to receive a secret message relating to the operation he is running which must be hand delivered to the President. When Novak is killed outside her hotel, every American tourist in the vicinity is under suspicion by Novak’s enemies, which include local Bulgarians and their Russian masters. In fact, Susannah falls under dangerous suspicion and must try to outwit the brutal KGB in order to finish her vacation without further incident - if she wants to see her home again . . .

Audience: Fans of Helen MacInnes, Evelyn Anthony, Mary Stewart, Anne Stuart

My Impressions: I requested Message from Absalom from the library when I saw it had been recommended by Susanna Kearsley, an author I have enjoyed for many years (in fact, since I read about her book, Mariana and persuaded someone to get me a copy from Transworld in London nearly 30 years ago).  It reminded me a lot of the best work of Helen MacInnes, whose books I started reading in high school (another author introduced to me by my mother). MacInnes wrote 25 books from 1941 to 1984 (four of which were made into movies) about smart, attractive women who find themselves caught up in espionage and use their ingenuity to live (mostly) to tell the tale. My favorite is While Still We Live which is set in Poland (and which I just recommended to a coworker today). As mentioned above, this book by Anne Armstrong Thompson is reminiscent of MacInnes.  Thompson  is an American who earned a graduate degree at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy just outside Boston.  I don't know if she actually had espionage experience but clearly she was very interested in international affairs and that is why she applied to Fletcher.
Anne Armstrong Thompson

Susannah is an intrepid heroine but this is a very scary book, set primarily in Bulgaria, which at the time was a communist country, and I was on edge the entire time I was reading it. The fearful locals don’t interfere with the Bulgarian security police and they don’t interfere with the KGB. There are a number of men who wish Susannah ill and the reader knows, chillingly, that they could make her disappear painfully and effectively. Ironically enough, one of the threats to Susannah is an American traveling with her who thinks she can be blackmailed into sleeping with him. There are some plot developments that seem like overkill but reveal one of the book’s most interesting characters, a man involved with Israeli Intelligence, who at first seems like a possible love interest for Susannah (by this time she really needs someone on her side!). I can see why this book is a favorite of many - the chemistry between Susannah and one of the main characters is very well done, as is the ongoing tension - and I will keep my eyes open for a copy to own, as well as pursuing some of Thompson's other books (easier now that several appear to be available in ebook format).

Off the Blog: This is the week I mail (and receive) mysterious packages in the annual Betsy-Tacy Ornament Exchange!  Stay tuned!

Source: InterLibrary Loan. Thank you to the Rockland Memorial Library!

Map image copyright to

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Once a Midwife (Book Review)

Title: Once a Midwife, a Hope River Novel
Author: Patricia Harman
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Welcome to Hope River, West Virginia as midwife Patience Hester, along with her family and friends, face the challenges of the home front during World War II, in Patricia Harman's latest novel.