Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins August 12, 2014
Genre: Mystery, World War I, England, France
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars for Good
Source: Free copy from William Morrow/HarperCollins in exchange for a review. The following review is written from my own opinion.

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There have been seven books (one a short story) in the Bess Crawford series.
Barnes and Noble has a list for the series.
I've read all of them except, A Question of Honor. 
The Charles Todd writing team is mother and son. They have 2 sets of mystery books with the time period of World War I and post World War I.
In the first series, Bess Crawford, is a Nursing Sister in France, during World War I. Her father has a military background. Bess is a reserved, observant, quiet, polite, strong-willed, determined, young single woman. So far in the series she does not have a boyfriend. When she is in London, she stays in a rooming house with other Nursing Sisters, the home owned by a Mrs. Hennessy. Bess is able to stay a few days for R and R at the rooming house after she transports wounded men back from France, and to England. The time period for the first Bess Crawford book begins in 1916, An Unwilling Accomplice, is set in the fall of 1918.
A second series of books are the Inspector Detective, Ian Rutledge, of Scotland Yard. Rutledge is a veteran of World War I. The series begins in 1919. He suffers from PTSD. He is single, he and his fiance broke it off in the first book. His partner in detective work is a quirky character (not all see him). Ian is a wonderful character, because he is transparent, honest, dimensional. There have been sixteen books written on Ian Rutledge. I've read several of them.

Bess Crawford has just arrived at Mrs. Hennessey's rooming house for a brief break from the front-lines of war in France. She has a letter from the War Office, asking her to escort a wounded veteran to Buckingham Palace, in order to receive a medal from the King. Even though she does not recognize the name of the soldier, he claims she nursed him after injury. After the award ceremony the soldier disappears. Bess is blamed, her reputation and career is at stake. Bess with the help of a family friend, Simon Brandon, begins the search for the AWOL wounded soldier.

My Thoughts:
I love the Bess Crawford character, even though she is not a dramatic heroine, she has a quiet and strong-willed demeanor. These character traits I admire in anyone. I suspect she is an introvert, I can relate to this.
An Unwilling Accomplice, showed me how the war has affected Bess. From the first page, her weary mind, body, and spirit, are spent. Even when she tries to sleep (and she does sleep) she finds it odd the big guns are not booming. Her psyche has become accustomed to the war and wounded. When the war is over she will need to decompress. Other traits I admire in Bess is her communication skills. She expresses her self very well no matter whom she is addressing. She remains humble and with conviction.
During World War I, PTSD, was an under-addressed and misunderstood issue. Most people, especially the general population did not understand. Preconceived ideas, criticism, judgment, and fear of the person are common reactions. I felt An Unwilling Accomplice, touched on this issue of PTSD.
Other factors of her knowledge and experience of nursing are brought into the story, delivering a breech baby, removing a bullet, dressing changes.
Simon has an active role in the story, he is in most of the scenes where Bess is looking for clues. I'm curious as to where their relationship is going. Is there more than a family friend fondness? I was sort of hoping Bess and Ian would meet at some point, I think they'd like each other.
My favorite part of the book was all of it but the ending. The ending seemed messy, and I'm not referring to bloody messy. It's as if something is not quite right, a disjointed atmosphere. I don't know how else to explain it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

Publisher: Berkley/Penguin Group, August 5, 2014
Genre: Jane Austen biographical fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Free copy from Berkley/Penguin Group in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion.

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Syrie James Website
Syrie James Twitter

Jane Austen's First Love, began by Jane's sister Cassandra reading Jane's old letters. They are women in mid-life, reflecting back on when they were young women desiring a well-lived life and to be in love. The letters are from 1791. Twelve years later they have settled into their chosen life, Jane is a writer.
But in the summer of 1791, there is a promise of young love. They are invited by their brother Edward to visit Goodnestone in Kent. While at Goodnestone, Jane meets the handsome Edward Taylor. Jane is impressed with his grand life of travel and adventure. The summer of 1791, will be a turning point in Jane's viewpoint of love and relationships.

My Thoughts:
I feel Syrie James, described a wonderful portrayal of a teenage Jane and a mature Jane. There is a fluidness to the two, the older Jane with the same basic personality as when when she was young, but she is settled and able to reflect on her young life.
There are lessons to be learned from the story of Jane Austen's First Love. Love cannot be forced. A mature person understands and accepts this. A young person does not understand the dynamics of allowing love to grow and develop over time. A young person feels the need to rush. A mature person understands the serious nature of real love.
I love the relationship of Cassandra and Jane. They are two sisters that allow each other to be the unique personalities they are, neither one tries to change the other, but accepts with grace and patience. Cassandra is the older sister, and even in her young age her personality leaning is to be reserved. Whereas a young Jane feels the need to "help things". Cassandra is patient with Jane, but she is also honest.
I enjoyed finding nuggets of character traits that I've recognized as being used in Jane Austen books. I'm glad the author added this dimension.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre, Afterword by John Le Carre'

Publisher: Crown Publishing, July 29, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, Spies, Espionage, Great Britain
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Rating: 4
Source: To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission. I received a free copy from Crown Publishing , through Blogging for Books for the purpose of review.

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From The Telegraph-A Spy Among Friends.

A review from The Wall Street Journal-A Spy Among Friends.

Interview with the author: Ben Macintyre. 

Kim Philby, is known as the greatest spy in history. He'd began working in British Intelligence, MI6, during World War II. He continued working as a spy during the Cold War Era, but by the early 1960s he'd began working as a journalist in Beirut. He had a magnetic personality, gaining trust by his wit, intellect, and charm. But, he was a master at disguising his real agenda because he was also a spy for the Soviet Union. He gave them information that he'd learned through his fellow British and American agents. A few drinks and agents spilled information that Philby used against the free world. Philby was English by birth, but Russian Communist politically. He was a lousy husband, yet an affectionate father. He was a trusted friend, yet politically disloyal and advantageous. His closest friend was British agent Nicholas Elliott. At their parting in the early 1960s, serious questions were raised if Elliott helped Philby disappear. Author Ben Macintyre, has written a candid account of Philby's life, in regards to his personal life, and his work for British and Soviet intelligence.

My Thoughts:
My favorite aspect of A Spy Among Friends, is the reality of life as a spy. This is not a fictional account reminiscent of James Bond, but the real look at the men and women who spied for both the free world and for Communism. Their long suffering spouses, long absences from home, a hard life of alcohol, trust and mistrust, and guilt over fellow agents deaths, are all explored in the book.
Both Philby and Elliott are not men of integrity, whether in their personal life or in their political life, they make the rules. After reading their stories I did not feel any sort of trust in either men. By the end of the book, Elliott appeared to have let Philby undertake him again, even after he'd learned what Philby had done for decades. But I wonder?
In the beginning of the book there were moments of sluggish reading, the book picked up mid-way and I had a hard time laying it down.
Philby's psyche is examined. I could not help but be amazed at this unusual human. Capable of befriending and murder. I find it ironic that Philby is a betrayer, yet became so enraged when he was betrayed.
Throughout the book attention is given to Philby and Elliott's relationship, and in regards to their task for MI6. The emphasis on how a trusted agent and friend could be so devious as to betray country and friend.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Elizabeth of York: Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence

Publisher: Amberley Books March 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, British History, Kings and Queens of England, House of York, House of Tudor, British History Reading Challenge 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272, 40 illustrations
Rating: 4 Stars for Very Good
Source: Free copy from Amberley in exchange for a review.

Amy Licence blog

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Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, and Elizabeth Wydeville, was born February 11, 1465. Elizabeth Wydeville, had two sons by her first marriage, and ten children by Edward. Elizabeth and Edward's marriage was unpopular, especially with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and with Cecily Neville, Edward's mother. Warwick was in the process of negotiations with France, to secure a wife for Edward at the time of Edward's "secret" marriage. Elizabeth Wydeville was of Lancasterian heritage and this was a strong cause of friction. Elizabeth of York's childhood dramatically changed at age three, by the Battle of Edgecote Moor, it was a Lancastrian victory. Edward was defeated and her mother's father and brother were both killed. During this period Elizabeth of York, was in sanctuary with her mother and siblings at Westminster. Edward had been apprehended but was released and returned to his family. Three subsequent York victories ended the struggle and there was a brief time of peace until Edward's death at age 41. Elizabeth lived during the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses, originally known as the Cousin's Wars. In addition, her two brother's disappeared mysteriously in the Tower, they were presumed dead. After the Battle of Bosworth, when Richard III was defeated and killed, she married Henry Tudor, the new king of England. Elizabeth and Henry had seven children, four that lived past childhood. Henry VIII, the couple's second son, ruled England for nearly 38 years.
Amy Licence considers Elizabeth a "lost Tudor." She's been minimized by other family members which had more documented sources, and dominant marks in history.

My Thoughts:
I have to admit, before reading Elizabeth of York, I'd thought of her as passive and demure. Her life dictated and ruled by others who were in charge, as she sat waiting for her life to begin. However, people esteemed her for both an outward and inward beauty.
"There seems always to have been but one opinion as to the gentleness and goodness of Elizabeth." From the Dictionary of National Biography. 
In the last year of life, documented sources tell us of her thoughtful gifts to the poor. Elizabeth was a thoughtful, caring, gentle soul. She'd lived among family members who were ambitious, calculating, vengeful, but this did not change her character. I admire Elizabeth. Despite how members of her family acted, or how life had brought about painful events, she continued to be a lovely gracious woman.
Amy Licence, has grafted into the story of Elizabeth of York, other notable historical figures and events. The Wydeville, York, Lancaster, Neville, and Tudor families, are all portrayed. The Wars of the Roses battles are described in brief. Pregnancy, birthing, caring for infants, diseases, childhood, and the history of printing press and books.
Licence remarks in the introduction:
"Tudor people can sometimes seem very close and at others, their behavior places them far from the twenty-first-century reader. To understand them, we have to try and get inside the Tudor mind, evaluate their actions according to their collective mentalite', if such a thing exists. Where the biographer and reader must be wary is in how their actions are interpreted. The late medieval 'environment' was very different from ours in social, cultural, political and religious terms. Thus the psychological backdrop of its inhabitants and the mechanisms by which they understood and acted on their emotions, indeed the very mental structures that produced them, differ widely from those of today. Put simply, our wallpaper has changed." Page 12.  
In each of the Licence's books I've read and reviewed, she reminds me to be careful how I "interpret" the historical people, especially in regards to the era in which they lived. I appreciate Amy bringing my mind back to where it needs to be, to not make hasty judgments, and to take in to account the society, and culture, and unique circumstance in which they lived.
I cannot say that I learned anything new from any of the other historical figures presented, but Elizabeth of York is certainly known to me now. I'm most impressed in learning that she probably taught her own children. Elizabeth took an active part in her children's present and future lives, this tells me she had a special and unique relationship with her children that many queens did not have.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Publisher: Barnes and Noble August 1, 2005
Genre: Fiction
Genre: Victorian Literature, England, Detective Novel, Classics Club, Victorian Reading Challenge 2014.
Format: Paperback
Pages: 544
Rating: 3 Stars for good.
Source: Free copy won from Allie at the The Literary Odyssey in August 2012. She has a new blog: Defining My Moment.

A bio on Wilkie Collins.

From the Victorian Web, on Wilkie Collins.

A famous Yellow Diamond from India is missing. For centuries it had been "set in the forehead" of a Indian moon god, the idol located in a rural area of northwest India. It was stolen, later ended up being found by an English soldier who left it in his will to a woman named Rachel. It is only in her possession a short time and then stolen. Legend and superstition, define the Diamond as being cursed by its possessor. After the Diamond is stolen the story sweeps through with detective work, and later several narrations are included of the evolving of the story.

My Thoughts:
I really wanted to love this story. I read the entire book not skipping anything, yet at times I was lost. Later in the novel when several different narrations are given, I was ready for the conclusion.
I picked up on the role of detective work which has led to the reality of detective work in novels. The study of habits of people, change in routine, prejudices, personality traits, preconceived ideas, are all explored.
There is a love story included between Rachel and her beau. This gives the book a human interest and melodramatic element, and not a sterile detective story.
During the 19th century, opium abuse was rampant, Wilkie Collins adds this dimension.
There is an exotic mysterious atmosphere in the story; however, the story did not work for me, I was never able to become apart of it.