Dear Publicists, Publishers, Authors and Generous Book People,
I am in graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Information and Library Science.
While the program is fascinating, the coursework and reading load are a little intense.
And I have fallen behind on book reviews. Please limit the books you pitch or send me to the following categories:
- Historical fiction
- Foodie lit or foodie memoir
- Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
- Extremely well-written YA genre fiction (no vampire romance, please!)
I will still be posting book reviews here when I can. But I cannot guarantee a timely review of your book, though I will do my best.
Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books
This is a review of the first three books in what I hope will continue to be an excellent series of mysteries featuring Maggie Hope, by Susan Elia MacNeal. Some mystery series, you can read them out of sequence, and still get oriented around the characters. In this case, it’s absolutely essential to start at the beginning with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. And make sure you have the next two close to hand. Because, there are plot twists near the ends of books, and details that carry over. I am trying very hard to avoid spoilers.
It’s not a spoiler to say that I was on the subway while reading the final chapters of Princess Elizabeth’s Spy and I blurted out “Holy S____! WHAT?” Much to the perplexed amusement of my fellow rush hour commuters. You will probably want to gobble down all of the books in rapid succession. This is a good plan. And Ms. MacNeal needs to write faster, please. Because I want another book or several.
Maggie undertakes her first mission behind enemy lines in His Majesty’s Hope. The events and character progressions take a somewhat darker, more intense turn than previous books. There are violent scenes, and not just those directly related to Maggie’s mission, or to the level of violence with the war. The nature of Nazi goals and projects becomes clearer to the British and to the Americans, in addition to mission/spy violent scenes. Violence leaves scars, and it was interesting to see how different characters reacted, or developed, or went off the rails entirely. I’m trying so hard not to spoil. Because there are so many key details about relationships and how people interact, and loyalties. So I’m being vague.
I like Maggie Hope. She’s extraordinarily good at math and ciphers, and really wants to use her talents for the War effort. Being a woman, she gets thwarted in that more often than not, but she keeps going. She’s smart and getting into the thick of solving mysteries, but feels real- can seethe with anger, jump to the wrong conclusions, be terrified of screwing up, be heartbroken, she can be a devoted friend, she can be prickly about past hurts. I like that she’s not a Superhuman Girl Detective, but rather, a complex mix of strengths and getting in her own way.
The way this series is put together, historical details and descriptions woven into alternate events, the end result is fully convincing and believable. Usually, I’m twitchy about alternate history, feeling like a square peg has been squished into a round hole. I was ready to believe in the spying and information exchange that went on to drive this plot across Bletchley, Buckingham and elsewhere. Here, I could believe in the historical characters as MacNeal created them, from Churchill conducting a meeting while splashing in his bath, to Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret being, well, siblings at each other. Fictional characters like David (I love David!) and Sarah and the riddles of Maggie’s past… fit seamlessly.
Grab as many of these books as you can, and put yourself on the pre-order list for more.
On Tuesday night, I got to go to a reading and signing by Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the Maggie Hope World War II mysteries.
Walking into the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street, I couldn’t believe it was my first time in there. I got there a little bit before Susan Elia MacNeal’s reading, and it was a good thing: gave me time to gape a bit at the floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the back wall devoted to Sherlockiana. Definitely need to go back there. I could see liking it a great deal, though I still grieve the passing of Partners and Crime.
Susan Elia MacNeal partnered up with fellow historical fiction writer M.J. Rose to do the reading. Rose hadn’t been on my radar, but after hearing her talk about her latest novel, which evokes Victor Hugo, I’m intrigued. To get into the spirit of writing Victor Hugo, she wrote in fountain pen. Wrote the entire novel out longhand, in fountain pen. And then had to type it up to submit it to her editor. I also learned that Hugo wrote standing up. Hemingway also did, but I find that easier to believe.
MacNeal read a passage from her latest novel, that showed some of the things I like best about Maggie Hope. She’s smart, and brave, and really good at some things like mathematics and codes. I really like the way she’s balanced as a character, between competently smart, and also flawed, humanly flawed rather than comically-for-the-plot flawed. I’m having trouble explaining exactly what I mean, but I’ll see if I can find better words for it after I finish the next book. Almost done. Yes, I did just get it Tuesday. Did I mention they’re fast reads?
Running into Nancy Bilyeau in the crowd was a nice surprise, just a few weeks after I zoomed through her latest, The Chalice. She teased me about reading it practically in one sitting “it’s good to get up and move!” she admonished me. Heh. I teased her about torturing her characters and needing to write faster.
MacNeal’s husband, Noel is a puppeteer who has worked with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I might have fangirled at him just a bit.
There was a Q and A after the reading, and I got a chance to ask what I always want to ask historical fiction writers: how do you switch gears and get your head out of the 21st century? For M.J. Rose, it took writing her entire novel longhand with a fountain pen. For MacNeal, it sounds like a combination of immersing herself in extensive research, and having the chance to travel to the places she wrote about. She told a story of being able to go into Churchill’s War Room, seeing them as they were, and really feeling a sense of time telescoping and history. I think I want to know more about this.
Mingling after the reading, I got a chance to tell Susan MacNeal that I’d in fact blurted out “holy S____” when reading the end of her second book, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy. She and her publicist both laughed at that.
Talking to MacNeal’s publicist, and with other fans of the book, the conversation turned to the fact that there’s somewhat of a love triangle for Maggie, as two men have entered the picture by the end of the second book. So a couple of people asked me whether I was rooting for John or for Hugh. I… don’t honestly know. I don’t tend to have an answer on the Team ThisGuy versus Team ThatGuy question in fiction. Ranger or Joe Morelli, Peeta or Gale… I’m usually ready to go along for the ride and see how it happens. Although in this case, Maggie’s relationship status would definitely be “It’s complicated.” Yeesh. More than that, I cannot say because spoilers.
Many thanks to my friend Jannette, who tipped me off to this reading… It hadn’t been on my radar.
And I will have to come back to the Mysterious Bookshop. Though, possibly, not until I have some book money to spend. Lots and lots of book money.
At first glance, it seems like a really odd subject for a play. Lucky Guy is a story about the career of a tabloid newspaper journalist, told across three newsrooms, two decades (the 1980′s and 1990′s), three major career-defining stories of scandals in New York, two health crises, and shaped out of highs and lows of career, personal life and health. It is very definitely a New York story, steeped in the politics of Guiliani, Dinkins, the NYPD, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and even the culture of the Hamptons.
Mike McAlary’s career is a really odd subject for a play.
But Nora Ephron’s writing, and this production convinced me. It worked. I really like the way it was staged, creating the newsroom with close-set desks, and with a screen stretched across the top half of the stage, to project McAlary’s big headlines. Read more…
While I was doing Dewey’s Read-a-Thon last weekend, I had the idea:
What would Dewey’s Read-a-Thon look like as a physical vacation spot? Like a spa, or a bed and breakfast? A place where book lovers could retreat to read in peace and recharge, away from their responsibilities. Heading out to my parents’ place is a key part of the Read-a-Thon for me. Because it means a change of scene (and Dad makes the best-ever pasta sauce!) and being cared for and cozy. That, as much as the reading and blog-connecting, is key.
I Googled “book lover’s bed and breakfast” and there is one already. In New Zealand.
But that’s a bit far.
So, if a B&B wanted to offer a Dewey’s Weekend Package, what would it include?
These ideas are off the top of my daydreams, and based on catching up with reading blogs and Tweets from my fellow participants.
Comfy places to read: Beds piled high with nice pillows, suites with big, comfy armchairs and good lighting: nice windows and good lamps. Possibly an exotic option or two, like a hammock, porch swing, or papasan. I love papasans. (Though, oddly, I have never owned one or lived with one. I always used to colonize Lisa’s when I went to her place.)
Wireless and plenty of outlets. Goes without saying. Though, the picture of a bunch of bloggers flocking to a B&B and then studiously ignoring/typing at each other tickles me.
A good selection of beverages and snacks: Coffee, different kinds of tea, hot chocolate and soda should be in abundant supply. Room service and/or a 24-hour buffet would be a terrific idea. Finger foods would be front and center- the kinds of things that are easiest to eat with one hand on the book.
A supply of extra books. Because deciding what books to pack to take with you can be hard. Even when e-readers mean you can grab any book you want with one click, sometimes you bring physical books with you.
And then I started wondering- what would it be like for a library to offer guest library cards through the B&B. So guests could explore the shelves on a new library, or use their e-books. And you’d take care of overdue fines by billing them as part of the room rate. In case, say, a guest took a book home, you could bill the cost to their card. So that’s covered. Could this actually work?
Or what if the B&B package included a discount at a local indie bookstore. Lots of neat community and small business possibilities.
Massage or yoga: In the spirit of the blogger who did a yoga stretches post as part of this past Read-a-Thon, you offer a couple of classes in yoga that focus on the gentle stretches of the back and shoulders you might need if you’ve been sprawling and reading for ages. It might be something you’d want to offer at different times during the reading weekend, to account for who finishes a book when, but it’d be greatly appreciated.
Friendly cats I always like meeting B&B cats, or dogs, for that matter. And they make good reading companions (also, popular with the blogosphere, judging from Read-a-Thon posts.
What have I left out of the ideal reading getaway?
I went to bed at about midnight last night, which I think puts me at 13 hours of participation. As my grandmother would have said “a genteel sufficiency.” I was left very happy with my day, and wanting more. (Looking longingly at A Flaw in the Blood, yet another in my seemingly infinite supply of historical mysteries.) But I have to get at least a little homework done today, and should take a nice walk in the sunshine I spent yesterday ignoring.
Here are the end-of-event questions
Which hour was most daunting for you?
There was no real daunting moment, mostly because I planned not to do the full 24 hours, from the outset.
Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Of the ones I read, I think S.J. Rozan’s Lydia Chin mysteries are a good bet for mystery lovers. Of books in general, I’d say YA genre fiction is always a good idea (though missing from my stash, this go-round). And foodie/chef memoir, although the particular title I read yesterday wasn’t very good. While I had the fleeting thought that it would be fun to do a themed Read-a-Thon day, where I read nothing but mysteries set in the 19th century, or foodie lit, or fantasy with European influences, I think switching it up works better in practice.
Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
As a student, I would welcome a summer Read-a-Thon, sometime in July or August, so I could take the 24 hours without feeling guilty about neglecting my homework. But, I’m only in school for one more year, so I’ve just got one more October and April before I won’t have to juggle paper deadlines.
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Following the #readathon Twitter hashtag was the best way to connect with other readers, for me, though I’m going to use the links on the main site to explore other people’s blogs in a more leisurely fashion over the next few days. I got too engrossed in my books to socialize as much as I wanted to!
How many books did you read? 3
What were the names of the books you read?
The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber
Ghost Hero by S.J. Rozan
Which book did you enjoy most? Ghost Hero. Now I want to read the rest of the Lydia Chin novels.
Which did you enjoy least? White Jacket Required. I finished it because I am stubborn and it was short. But now I want to read an actually good chef memoir.
How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I’m very likely to participate again, but I’ll have to play both October and next April by ear, with regard to school and end-of-term deadlines. Once I’m done with school, though, I’d like to take an active role, and host either a mini-challenge, or host on the main site for an hour or two.
I am super excited, this is my first time hosting a Mini Challenge (though my 6th Dewey). Hello to you all, and thank you so much for participating in my Mini-Challenge. How is your reading going? No matter how many or little you've read, I hope you are enjoying yourself and having a good time.
Hour 13... I figure I should have thought of something spooky, but maybe half way through the read-a-thon, you are feeling a bit hungry?
Wow, I was so glued to Ghost Hero by S.J. Rozan, that I completely missed the Hour 12 Mid-Event Survey.
And then I had dinner with my parents and watched a movie (Hunky Dory, which includes a school production of The Tempest, so…. literary merit?) I wrote this earlier but forgot to post it! Oops! What hour are we in, 15 now? Hello everyone!
1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
Chugging along, very pleased. I don’t plan to stay up through the second half though, so I feel like I’ve indulged in a restorative bookish spa day, rather than a marathon that needs strength and determination. Which is exactly what I wanted.
2) What have you finished reading?
I have finished: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau, and White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber. I am nearly finished with Ghost Hero by S.J. Rozan, but took a break for dinner.
3) What is your favorite read so far? Ghost Hero
4) What about your favorite snacks? Chocolate pretzels. cucumber slices, and if I hadn’t been taking a break for dinner (pasta with sauce-by-Dad, the best!) I’d have gotten into the cheddar cheese and cucumbers
5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love
I’ve been more plugged in to Twitter than to blogs for this year’s readathon, though planning to say hi to some blogs before I turn in for the evening. Shout-outs to Twitter folk: @alitareads, @bookgoil and @figwiggin. And, over the next couple of days, planning to visit blogs from Dewey’s links, to catch up on the social part.
As ever, if you leave a comment, I’d love to know a bit about your geography