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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bodies and Plots and Connect the Dots in France!

Mortal AmbitionsMortal Ambitions by Patrick Philippart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first reads mystery starts off in the early morning hours when a vacationing journalist, suffering a bout of insomnia, is sitting on a balcony smoking a cigarette and sipping some wine. Suddenly, the quite is broken by what sounds like a gunshot. Fifteen minutes later there is another shot and then the quiet of early morning returns and he goes back to bed. When he awakes there are police at the house next door and being a journalist he heads over to get his foot in the news door first. Seems the home belongs to a government minister who claims to have startled a burglar whom he shot in the act. The police are satisfied that it is an open and shut case. Our journalist does not like the inconsistencies in the Minister's story and decides to investigate further. He calls his editor in Paris, tells him of the burglary and his misgivings. He is authorized to pursue the case. And thus begins the page turning quest of Dimitri Boizot.

In very short order, Dimitri starts to gather bits of information that begin to form a cluster of dots much like a connect the dots puzzle. The only problem with this puzzle is that, though Dimitri thinks they should form a picture, they seem to be related but cannot seem to be connected. Along the way, he encounters high school classmates of the Minister, a widow of one who is murdered the same night as the burglar but in a different town, the sister of another classmate who died in a car accident years ago. Each of these characters are interesting and move the story along. It is not until the very end of the book that all the scattered dots and bigger pieces fall into place and the back story is revealed. Exciting sleuthing and myriad characters provide a satisfying who dunnit for a lazy snowy day and evening.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

A Non-Fiction Spy Thriller of World War II

A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies in Occupied FranceA Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies in Occupied France by Susan Ottaway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is not so much the style of writing that earned five stars from me but rather the subjects of the story. Don't be deceived by that sentence into thinking the style of writing is boring, it is not. Rather it is understated as the lives of these two remarkable women were. Born in England, these sisters and their two brothers moved to France with their parents prior to the outbreak of World War II. Except for the oldest child, their brother, Frederick, the three younger children for all practical purposes were French. They spoke both French and English, their father being English and never having become fluent in French. Their memories of living in England were vague, yet when France was overrun by the Nazis and divided into Nazi held northern France and the Nazi sympathetic Vichy France, the girls began to think that their only way of helping defeat Germany and free France was to return to England and attempt to find work that would allow them that opportunity.

Both in their 20's, the younger girl, Didi, just 20, they managed after two aborted tries to reach London. Jacqueline, the older of the two obtained work with the SOE, a British government organization that smuggled British agents into France to work with the Resistance in preparing for the Allied assault to come. She was trained and sworn to secrecy as she was airlifted into France and dropped by parachute to begin a 16 month tour as a courier. Meanwhile, Didi, who did not know what the job entailed tried to get hired by the SOE as well and eventually successful was airlifted into France where she began her work as a wireless telegrapher. She eventually was discovered in Paris, by the Nazis and was arrested.

The story begins at Didi's death in an English coastal town, where she is known as an elderly recluse. She is discovered in her apartment several days after dying of an apparent heart attack. Nothing is known of her prior life and the town is about to give her a simple burial until the police, while going through her belongings, discover letters, official documents and war time medals that lead to her niece in Italy who is able to reveal the heroic exploits of her Aunt Didi and, also, her Aunt Jacqueline.

The revelations of the lives these women and others lived and the way they served the war effort is a mesmerizing tale, which stays with the reader long after the tale has been told. A wonderful book which reveals that in war time it is not only the uniformed armed man who serves, but in many cases secretive men and women providing the information and support the soldier needs to succeed.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

A Family Can Find a Way to Accept Small Mercies in the Face of Greal Loss

Small Mercies: A NovelSmall Mercies: A Novel by Eddie Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a Manhattan girl myself and Staten Island was out there at the end of a ferry ride but really not a familiar place. Graduated from college in '63 and left the city behind, except for a few scattered visits while there were still relatives in The City. But, oh, this book brought it all back--the Italians, the Irish, the small bars and neighborhoods, the families. If you grew up in The City you have to read this book. If you don't know The City, you have to read this book to know what it was like. I was sleeping in when the Towers were hit--I always hated them, thought them ugly and an insult to the beauty of the Empire State Building that my Dad, from local 3, helped put the first radio tower on. An insult to the lacey Manhattan Bridge, on which my Grandfather worked as a ironworker. Right up there with the Verranzano, an ugly strip of highway going to some island. But, in central Vermont, my heart collapsed when a friend called to say the Towers were hit by a plane and I put on the TV, like the rest of the world and watched speechless and listened as it was revealed that this was our new Pearl Harbor, in The City, my city. One of the major thoughts that crossed my mind was how happy I was that my brother, the NYFD retiree, was safely in Florida with his family.

As you can see this book holds a great deal of relevance on many levels for me. There are others who will have the same kinds of connections but the book should be read by anyone who wants to know what living there is like and wants to know what the impact of such a horrible event has on the individuals in a family of the neighborhood. Something that no newspaper account or annual memorial can ever spell out--even for those of us who didn't lose someone in the Towers. A remarkable book filled with real people in a real City.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All For One and One For All---Gotta Get That Hand and Bury It!

The French Executioner (French Executioner, #1)The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Boleyn has an audience with her executioner the night before she is to lose her head. She requests that he also remove her hand, the infamous six-fingered hand, take it to a crossroads in the Loire Valley and bury it there. She wishes to keep it out of the hands of those who would use it for their own ends after her death. This is a historical novel--Anne Boleyn did exist, the second wife of Henry the VIIIth, history says she did have six fingers on one hand, the sign of a witch. A Frenchman, Jean Rombaud, was brought to London to execute her using a sword, apparently a more humane beheading than the ax. As to removing her hand and transporting it for burial on some rural crossroads in the Loire Valley, that, my friends, is the novel part.

Naturally, no quest is easily accomplished and this is no exception. Within a very short time after arriving in France, Jean is relieved of the pouch and the hand it contains. He is placed in a gibbet and deserted after being badly beaten by the huge German bodyguard of the depraved Giancarlo Cibo, Archbishop of Siena. The gibbet caretaker is a one-handed German with a pet raven, Daemon. He is the first of the followers Jean will gather as he starts on the trek to retrieve the hand and fulfill his vow to the Queen. For the telling of the tale, the German, known only as Fugger, releases Jean and demands to be taken along.

The story moves throughout France to Tours, with many skirmishes along the way and the addition of a giant Norseman, Haakon and his wolfdog, Fenrir. Continuing on the journey, they finally catch up to Cibo but their effort to succeed is thwarted by another, also trying to catch him. This is a young, sling-shot bearing Italian boy, Beck, who becomes yet another member of Jean's entourage. There is time spent by Jean and Haakon as galley slaves headed to Italy. When they successfully get out of that situation they have acquired the last of their group, a Muslim Croatian, Januc. So, the group of four is assemble, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Pagan and unbeknownst to them, a Jew.

The adventure continues--a Black Mass, held inside a giant kaleidoscope, that was much too ribald for me, Sienna during the annual Palio, a monastery and village made insane by St Anthony's fire, Giancarlo's mad brother, an Anabaptist takeover of the Fugger's hometown in Germany. It is every swashbuckling movie with swordfights and leaps and swirls you've ever seen. It is the Day of St Anthony's Fire which occurred in 1951 all over again, it is the Palio of Romeo and Juliet in another year. There are battles and escapes and chases and forest madness galore. The story is fun and fast moving and like the three Musketeers our heros are different in everyway but all for one and one for all and each is endearing. To say nothing of the Raven who quotes "Hand" instead of Nevermore and the wolfdog who is ever alert and defending. There is even a herbalist seer in the deep dark woods who aids our troop in escaping one more time.

Just a fun and fast read for those who like medieval quests by men who aren't knights but could have been, with a little cleaning up.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

A Good Book That Could Use More Proof Reading and Correction

Buried SecretsBuried Secrets by Cheryl Kennedy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is very difficult to review and rate this book. Let me begin with the plot and characters. The root of the plot is the single-minded pursuit of a dream from young manhood into old age by Chester Eastwick, an affluent Newport businessman. His obsession to find washed up artifacts and coins from ships that foundered off the coast of Rhode Island has, for over 30 years, led him to commit acts and make choices that have been secrets throughout most of his life. In addition, these choices and acts have had debilitating affects on his wife and two daughters, leading to even more family secrets. At the heart of the plot is the seaside cottage that he'd wanted to buy so that he might have access to the beach which has a very good possibility of having the buried treasure he desires. Unfortunately for Chester his daughter, Katherine bought the property before she died and it has since passed down through the family, becoming ever more inaccessible to him. The last family member to own the cottage, his grandson, Chase, has just died in an auto accident on the coastal road near the cottage and Chase's fiancé, Emily, is in the process of moving in. Chase's father, Phillip, had been rather distant with Chase and is, at least indirectly, responsible for Katherine's death. This is one of his secrets and is a source of friction between him and Chester, his employer as well as father-in-law. Needless to say, the secrets hidden among the family members from each other as well as outsiders has caused tensions and forced each of them to make life choices geared to keep these things hidden.

Even Ms Kennedy has a secret. She has chosen to call one of her other characters " the man". This fellow hires a seedy ex-con to act as an investigator of sorts. Riley is hired to search the cottage and its surroundings as well as keep an eye on Emily and those who come to visit her. His discovery beneath the floorboards of one of the bedrooms deepens the mystery. Who is " the man " and why his interest in the cottage and this family?

The imagery of Phillip and Emily's careful excavation of the beach around an outcropping of rock to unearth pieces from long ago shipwrecks produces the same type of anticipation in the reader as the revealing of the buried secrets of the title through the unraveling of the clues. In the end of both searches there is the elation of discovery and the satisfaction of a happy conclusion.

Each of the characters is so well drawn that even the ones who are dead are three dimensional. Though never having met Katherine or her sister, Sarah, so to speak, the reader recognizes their personalities and finds them believable. Thus from the viewpoint of plot and its development and characterization, this is a wonderfully interesting book that is easy to read and satisfying.

Yet, when I was about a quarter of the way through it, I contacted the author to ask if this were an ARC, I found so many typos and usage errors. She said that it was not and that she felt closely adhering to grammatical rules often resulted in stilted dialogue and she wanted a natural flow of words. I accepted that. She went on to say that she also was not terribly concerned with the few words that got by spell check. She just loved to write and hadn't been making much money from the effort but that was not her main goal in writing anyway. All of this made sense to me, but I love reading and these glitches were jolting and broke the flow of the story. I continued to read a few more chapters and almost put the book aside to move to something else.

Two things kept me going: 1.I am a retired science teacher and can't help myself-my fingers itch to grab my red pen and circle those things that need correcting. But, I told myself, most of the readers would not be teachers with the same viewpoint. 2. I loved the story, was dying to know who " the man " was ( I got it wrong ), and wanted to know how it was all going to end.

So, I finished the book, but felt as though I had read a rough, first draft or, at best, a semi-polished second draft, not a polished, finished product, which this is, according to Ms Kennedy. In that regard, then, I must say that I'm happy this was a free Goodreads giveaway rather than a $17 Amazon purchase. Had it been proofread and corrected better I would have given it four stars.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Were There Two Men or Only One? An Edwardian True Mystery!

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and IntrigueThe Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue by Piu Marie Eatwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas Charles Druce, owner of a London department store and quite affluent dies in December of 1864. He leaves several children, one of whom inherits the Baker Street Bazaar.

William John Cavendish-Bentick-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland, reclusive, unmarried with no heirs, dies at his estate, Welbeck Abbey in December 1879.

Two very distinct gentlemen, one of whom was contracted to do some work on Welbeck Abbey by the other, but seemingly with no other connections, died 15 years apart in two locations, considerably distant from each other.

End of story or so it would seem. Until, in March of 1898 when Anna Maria Druce, the daughter-in-law of T.C. Druce and the widow of his son, Walter Thomas, appears in St Paul's Cathedral. She bears a petition to the church court to allow the exhumation of TC Druce. She claims he did not die in 1864 but rather feigned his death so that he could shed the double life he was leading. That, in actuality, T.C. Druse was the 5th Duke of Portland and that her family is therefore the rightful heirs to the Welbeck Estate and the title, not the distant relative who at present is the 6th Duke of Portland.

To say that this claim is a dropped bombshell in society, opens many cans of worms and becomes a cause celebre is all to quite understate the events that unfolded through the next ten years.
The cast of characters and their tales are fascinating, the unearthed secrets of the lives led by the people involved in the two families are amazing.

The book is divided into nice short chapters, each of which carries one further into the story and leads one to jump right into the next one to see where the threads will lead. Australian bushmen, New Zealand widows, nurses, lawyers, detectives, newspapermen, secretaries --some of whom claim that these two men were one and the same, others who say they were not--keep the reader guessing until almost the moment when the grave is finally open--but even then, the author leaves you hanging a bit longer before the findings are revealed.

But, the story does not end there, the author carries the lives of the characters beyond that final legal decision. And the reader is glad to know what happened to them all once the case is closed and the mystery laid to rest.

As good as any fictional mystery but all the more enjoyable because it is not fiction.

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

There Are No More Elephants in This Book Than in Africa!

The Last SavannaThe Last Savanna by Mike Bond
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The BEST thing about this book is its cover! The basic story could have been told in about 100 pages but the author padded it with repetitive descriptions of heat and thirst, meaningless ruminations of its characters that had nothing to do with the disappearing wildness of the continent. The " hero " is selfish and shallow--says that through fear of lions devouring the human inhabitants, they have practically eradicated lions. That may be true, but he continues to say that through that same fear, man has created marriage and the ownership of women---what?? This Ian Macadam has agreed to go with a native ranger to apprehend some elephant poachers. Then he discovers that a married woman after whom he has lusted for years ( having ONCE had sex with her ) has been kidnapped by the poachers. All of a sudden the quest is the freedom of this woman. Throughout the book, when we are in Macadam's head, he is pining away for her. Yet, never once, while in Rebecca's head--she of the blond hair and milky white skin--do we ever hear her think of Ian. Her old boyfriend in Paris, her father, her two sons and her much older and colder husband, yes, but not Ian. Oh, well, she did reject him after all, despite the earth rocking sex!

Then there are the poachers, three Somali's of the same clan--with their own conflicts. Just too boring.

The wordiness, convoluted thoughts of the characters, leading me to believe that more often than not they are delirious from heat stroke and lack of water, the repetitiveness made me want to give up on this book, but instead, I scanned a lot and was happy, after checking numerous times to see how many more pages of this was left, to find that the end was at hand and everybody except an old lion and Rebecca were still alive. She planning on living life to the bone--my hope was that it would be a bare bone left behind by the old lion once he'd feasted on her.

Actually, maybe that is how it ended, hence the wonderful shot of the winner on the cover! This was a Goodreads giveaway so I felt it necessary to finish and review it, otherwise I would have given it a toss after about the first 50 pages.

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