Thursday, June 26, 2014

Elephant and Piggie

I love taking my kids to the library.  We have a fantastic library in our little town, and it is chock-full of ways to help kids enjoy reading.  Great selection, huge play area with educational toys, busy reading summer reading program with incentives and story times and activities - it's just wonderful.  My kids love library day.

Wandering through the library with them one day, we stumbled upon Elephant and Piggie.  I can't remember the first Elephant and Piggie book we read because as soon as we read one of them, we checked out ALL of them from the library and read them ALL repeatedly.  Mo Willems, author of another set of children's books we love, the Pigeon books, has created two opposite, delightful characters that tell their stories through the use of dialogue balloons.  The two are best friends, but they often hilariously find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.  Gerald, the elephant, (yes his name is GERALD...that right there should tell you it is awesome) is the more cautious, nervous friend while Piggie is carefree and will try anything.  Their adventures include the great moral dilemma of whether or not to share your ice cream, the trepidation that comes with being invited to a party, the celebration of Pig Day, and the horror of discovering you might be allergic to your best friend.  Although silly, the core problem will usually be some basic issue, like breaking a new toy, that kids can identify with.  Some of their stories have moral lessons woven in...and some are just ridiculous, because, you know, not everything has to be a teachable moment.  Sometimes you just want to read a book about an elephant with a bird stuck on their head.  Or, as in my favorite, We Are in a Book!, sometimes you discover that you are actually the subject of a book - so NOW what do you do?!

This books are amazing to read out loud to kids.  I have read hundred, maybe thousands, of books out loud to my children.  Since this blog is called "confessions," here is a confession of mine: it gets old.  It seriously does.  By the 5th Berenstain Bears book or the 8th Dr. Seuss book, you can be totally worn out with reading out loud.  (As a kid, did you ever realize how freaking LONG Dr. Seuss's books are?!  Ai yi yi!)  Reading out loud to your kids is incredibly important - every study done anywhere on the issue says that it is a major contributor to kids' academic success later on.  It also builds memories and bonds between you and your children that you just can't get watching TV together.  It is an incredibly, indescribably important part of childhood and parenting.

It can also...get old.  Come on...admit it.  Sometimes it does.

This is part of the beauty of Gerald and Piggie - you don't get worn out reading them.  The voices are fun to do, the actions are fun to, and by the end of the book, I usually wind up wishing it was just a little longer.  It's the perfect break from Clifford.  Whom I love.  Truly.  Clifford, Curious George, Madeline, Fancy Nancy - love them all.  But sometimes you need something fun and funky and a break from everything else.  That's where Elephant and Piggie save the day. Kids love them, adults love them, and they are so super-fun that it's hard to put them down.  I have found myself flipping through them and laughing long after the kids go to bed.  Yes, more confessions.  That has happened.

If you have kids, are around kids, or are a kid at heart yourself, check out the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.  But if you get in trouble  for laughing out loud standing in the library, don't say I didn't warn you! 

Some titles to get you started:

We Are in a Book!
Should I Share My Ice Cream?
A Big Guy Took My Ball!
There is a Bird on Your Head!
Elephants Cannot Dance!
I Am Invited to a Party! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Literary Quotes

I have been attending literary workshops all week, so I don’t have a new review  for you. (Ironically, because I am attending classes on literacy, I have not been able to read as much.  Chew on that on.)  I do, however, have a “related to reading” post to share.  One of the presenters this week used this article as a prompt for a collaborative activity:

Obviously, this is a list that could be widely debated, although I do like their picks.  But it got me thinking about my own favorite literary quotes.  I do not pretend to have read everything, and I don’t have my mother’s or my brother’s memory to remember everything I ever read.  However, there are times when a sentence just really grabs you and sticks with you in a special way.  So I thought I would share with you some of my favorite quotes from literature.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and it is not ranked.  These are just the ones I could come up with today.  It’s the kind of list that can easily shift and move with time.  Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments!

So without further adieu...these are a few of my favorite things:
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” - Daphne duMaurier, Rebecca

“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four

“The ships hung in sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.”
- Lord Tennyson, "Crossing the Bar"

“No pit is so deep that God is not deeper still.” - Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

“I am a princess.  All girls are.  Even if they live in tiny old attics.  Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t  pretty, or smart, or young.  They’re still princesses.” - Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess

“Time is an illusion.  Lunchtime doubly so.” - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Do not go gently into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
- Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gently"

“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” - Kate Chopin, The Awakening

“When the day shall come that we do part,” he said softly, and turned  to lookt at me, “of my last workds are not ‘I love you,’ you’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” - Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross

“Oh, this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom to his: to display such blatant evil one could almost believe one’s own secret sin didn’t matter.” - Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. - Gilbert K. Chesterton , What’s Wrong with the World

“All wars are sacred,to those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn’t make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it. Their ears are too full of bugles and drums and the fine words from stay-at-home orators. Sometimes the rallying cry is ’save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!’ Sometimes it’s ’down with Popery!’ and sometimes ‘Liberty!’ and sometimes ‘Cotton, Slavery and States’ Rights!” - Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind


“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” - Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
“God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.” - William Shakespeare, Hamlet 
“Rosencrantz: I don't believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then? ” - Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

And for my final word for today...

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”   - C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Monday, June 16, 2014

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion

Authors can be great for different reasons.  Some authors are thrilling and gripping.  Others write majestically with grace and beauty.  Other authors are great simply because they are, at heart, storytellers, and they can just plain tell a good story.

Fannie Flagg is among one of the greatest storytellers of our time.  You are probably most familiar with her work Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, although you may not have realized this was hers.  That's a great story that was turned into a great movie.  But she has so many other books, and I will warn you, once you start a Fannie Flagg novel, you won't stop till you're done.  (Fortunately, they are not as long as, say, Diana Gabaldon's, so you can finish them in a timely manner.)

Flagg's latest novel, The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, does not disappoint.  In is, as her other novels are, a great story.  It involves the stories of multiple women across generations that are tied together by a tightly kept secret.  It twists and turns and keeps the reader on their toes.  Every time I think I have a Fannie Flagg story all figured out, she jerks it in an entirely different direction.  It's like riding a roller coaster.  You just hang on and go with it, having fun along the way. 

It is also the telling of a true story, that of the WASP corps, the women Air Force pilots that flew domestic missions during WWII.  For decades this all-important piece of American history has been tucked away, kept under wraps by the military until the 1970s.  Now we are learning about these courageous women who contributed to the war effort and broke barriers for future women by taking on a job that many thought only belonged to men - flying military airplanes.  It's a remarkable part of our heritage, and the story needs to be told.  Flagg tells it masterfully in the context of her characters' lives, because one way or another, the WASP corp affected each and every characters' lives.

Characters are one of the best parts of a Flagg novel.  She creates people that are so real, you can hear them talk in your head and feel like you're sitting down to have coffee with them yourself.  This main character of this novel, Sookie, is someone you just want to hug and reassure that everything's going to be all right.  You find yourself deliciously and righteously angry with her mother Leonore, a mother you love to hate and love.  Fritzi, a tough WASP veteran who takes life by both hands and does everything her own way, will have you laughing and cheering all the way through, even when you don't agree with the choices she is making.  These are marvelous, lovable, flawed, real characters that draw you into their lives and invite you to stay a while.

All of Fannie Flagg's books take place in the South, and the culture of the South that she brings into her works have both charm and stark reality.   It is obvious that Flagg loves the South, but she is aware of its faults, and she boldly tells the truth where it needs to be told while also painting a magical background for the telling of her story.  The South itself is a character of her books. 

This is a lovely book.  Check it out for a great summer read.  You will not regret it!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Still reading Written in My Own Heart's Blood, but here are some links to other Fannie Flagg novels in case you get hooked:

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven
I Still Dream About You
Standing in the Rainbow


Saturday, June 14, 2014

A King's Ransom

Oh, Sharon Kay Penman.  You have done it again. 

I will admit.  It is very difficult for me to review a book by SKP with any kind of objectivity because I LOVE HER SO MUCH.  Ever since the day I stumbled onto When Christ and His Saints Slept, I was completely hooked.  She is such a phenomenal writer, and she writes about a time period I love.  It's a literary match made in heaven. 

I'll try to keep my head screwed on straight for your sake, dear readers.  But it will be hard.  Because once again THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

A King's Ransom is Penman's final book in her Plantagenet series (or at least she claims it is).  It covers the second half of King Richard I's reign.  Her previous book about Richard, Lionheart, covered the crusade years.  My review of that one can be found here.  As Richard left the middle east and tried to come home to England (to stop his brother, Prince John of Robin Hood infamy, from taking over), he was kidnapped by the Duke of Austria and handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor.  It was years of treachery and whatnot before his mother managed to arrange for his release.  The book also includes his turbulent marriage with his Spanish princess, the double dealings of his brother Prince John, and the continuation of the life of my favorite woman from history, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the only woman in history to be queen of both England and France in the course of her life and whose descendants went on to rule most of Europe for centuries to come.

You can't make this stuff up.  History itself is much more exciting than fiction.

Once again, Penman keeps you turning every page - even though you already know what's going to happen.  The fact that I knew the outcome of Richard's life before I read the book was irrelevant.  I still couldn't put the book down.  Penman's brilliance as a historical novelist just keeps the reader coming back for more - and aching once the book is over. 

Her meticulous research also keeps me coming back.  I have mentioned this before, but she has ruined me for many other historical writers.  I am now a historical fiction snob.  If it's not well researched, or certain events are changed for no apparent reason, then I don't consider it worth my time.  Penman is passionate about being as factual as possible, and I love that about her.  Just makes me want to read her work all the more. 

I waited over two years for Ransom, and it was well worth the wait.  Come read this book and dive into the world of the Middle Ages.  The intrigue and drama found there is far more interesting than any soap opera you can find today. 

Rating out of 5 stars:  oh come on, like a book like this can be confined to 5 stars...
Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon.  That's pretty much it for a while.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

My father likes to take walks at night.  Around 10:00 pm at night, he will head out the door into the darkness and walk the entire neighborhood.  He likes the quiet and the coolness of the night.  He can ponder his day and clear his head while getting some great exercise.  Generally he does this alone, but I have been known to join him when I am in town visiting my parents.  It's a great time to have a long, uninterrupted talk with my dad, something that becomes increasingly difficult as schedules and kids get in the way. 

On one of these walks, Dad told me one of his favorite "character" stories that he uses as a scout leader with his young troops.  The story is about a World War II bomber pilot named Charlie Brown who was shot up while flying a B-17 bomber over Germany.  As he was struggling to get his plane back to England, a German fighter pilot flew up by his side.  The two enemy pilots stared at each other while Charlie waited for him to finish him off, but instead of killing an already wounded crew, the German pilot escorted the American pilot out of Germany to the North Sea.  The German pilot then saluted the American pilot and then veered off.  Neither pilot was entirely sure of what happened, but it was clear that the German pilot had made a choice not to include that particular plane in his kill list that day.  Dad uses the story with his scouts to talk about character, honor, choices, etc. 

Adam Makos, who wrote the original story for a magazine (where Dad first saw it), has researched and expanded the story into an entire book, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.  The book tells the story of two men, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, fighting opposite sides of a war but finding themselves in a moment of history on December 20, 1943, that would go on to become one of the greatest military stories ever told.  Eventually, decades later, the two men find each other, and a friendship is formed that defies our prejudices about what the enemies of that war were supposed to be.

We like to think of World War II as the simple war.  Ask the average person on the street about World War I, and they will likely give you a blank stare.  That one's hard to understand, although there is a hilarious-yet-accurate description of the conflict here.  But World War II?  Oh, that one's easy.  Japanese - they attacked us.  Bad.  And in Europe?  Please.  Nazis are bad.  All Germans were Nazis.  Therefore all Germans were the bad guys.  We fought on the sides of the angels. And we won.  Because we were right.  On to the Cold War.

However, war is never simple, and it is never easy. 

A Higher Call, while telling both men's stories, really focuses on the story of the German pilot, Franz Stigler, a commercial pilot who never wanted to be in the war in the first place and who certainly was not on the side of the Nazis.  Did you know the National Socialist Party only won 44% of the vote when they came to power?  The majority of Germany voted against them.  However, they still won the most votes over the other 11 parties vying for power in the 1930s, so in they came.  Many, if not most, of the armed forces in Germany in World War II were not defending the Nazis.  They were fighting for the survival of their country, and many, like Franz Stigler, found themselves stuck between the enemy to the West and the enemy within their own borders.  In an army where telling a joke about Hitler could put you in front of the firing squad, loyalties are often fuzzy, and the struggle to be faithful to your country while hanging onto your humanity becomes a life or death situation.  The winners get to write the history books, and it is easy to paint the Germany of the 1940s with the same paintbrush.  The truth is far more complicated. 

This book gave me a fresh perspective on multiple sides of a war I previously thought of as a black-and-white issue, and it left me weeping at the end at the strength of mercy and friendship in the face of war.  I would highly recommend it as a quality way to spend your reading time.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (just because I didn't always follow the technical stuff)

Umm...I just received Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon...that's right, book 8 of the Outlander series...814 pages of that's pretty much my TBR list for the next little bit.  I hope I remember to eat something...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Revenge Wears Prada

By rights, I shouldn't actually call this a review.  I didn't actually finish the book.  So let me say right off the bat that I am not "rating" the book.  However, the truth must be shared so that future readers may be warned...

I have previously reviewed The Devil Wears Prada.  It was an ok book that made a better movie.  But it was still an ok book.  When I saw that Laura Weisberger had written a sequel, Revenge Wears Prada, I was interested enough to check it out from the library and attempt to read it.

I tried.  I really did.


As far as I can tell, Andy, the main character, has not grown up at all.  In fact, I think she may have regressed a little.  She seems to have become everything she hated in the first book.  Still, somehow, she manages to start a successful publication of her own and find what appears to be the perfect husband.  On her wedding day, she finds a note from her future mother-in-law to her husband-to-be begging him not to marry Andy.  This understandably shakes Andy up.  The story is ok up to this point - which is, like, page 6 or something.

Then Andy proceeds to marry the husband but go for PAGES AND PAGES AND PAGES of agony before she actually talks to him - and when she does, she acts like a two year old and stomps off.

Somewhere in there she gets tested for STDs, but it turns out she's just pregnant.  Because, you know, those two things are hard to tell apart. 

Have you noticed yet that there is no "revenge" that the title has promised us?  No appearance of the villain we all love to hate, Miranda Priestly?  For all that revenge might wear Prada (a title that actually makes no sense, when you think about it), there doesn't seem to be a lot of revenge going on, just Andy acting like an idiot. 

I got about 30 pages in and then got on Goodreads to see if I was the only one with this reaction.  What I found was that almost every reader on there who had tried to read the book had the same experience I did.  Ah, so it's not just me.

I decided that life was too short for bad books and took the thing back to the library.  The next book I picked up was The All-Girls Filling Station's Last Reunion, and it redeemed my faith in the written word.  (Review to come!)

So my advice to you all...please don't read this book.  Just like you shouldn't waste calories on bad chocolate, you should not waste precious reading time on bad literature.  And this is bad, bad, BAD literature. 
Reading now: A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander
1. The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman
2. Follow the River by James Alexander
3. Lost in Translation Volume 1 by John Klein and Adam Spears
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

Friday, June 6, 2014

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

Sometimes what you need is to gather with some gal pals, break open a bottle of wine (or sparkling grape juice, as would be the case with me), and watch a good British soap opera to bring the bonds of friendship around.   And sometimes it's those friendships that prove to help you become the woman you want - and need - to be.

Thus is the premise for the delightful chick lit, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey.  The plot revolves around three women, all experiencing different crises in their lives, who have moved into a downtown Atlanta apartment building.  The concierge of the building, a British transplant to the American South who runs his own service business,  decides to try to create a sense of community in the building by airing Downton Abbey every Sunday night in the clubroom in anticipation of Season 3's arrival to the United States.  He strongarms several of the women into coming, and as a result, friendships begin to form that change their lives.

Ok, the story is not going to win any literary prizes.  The plot is somewhat predictable and the writing is simple enough.  But the characters are delightful, and the buildup to the big climatic scene where all the storylines come together is nail-bitingly, deliciously anxiety inducing. I think all women can identify with at least one of the female characters in some way, and for sure all women can understand the need for female companionship and bonding over such things as Downton Abbey.  There is a phenomenon among women in which we come together over such stories.  Women need common ground, and they need socializing.  In short, women need each other.  The friendships formed in the book begin to strengthen each woman in a different way and help them realize they are stronger than they think.  By the end of the book, you want to stand up and cheer for each of the three leading ladies for what they have discovered about their lives and about themselves. 

I would have liked to have seen more of the show incorporated into the book's plotline - even though it is sort of the string that holds the book together, it doesn't really play a strong role in the story, and I think the book characters could have spent more time relating to the TV characters.  It would have made it more fun for those of us reading the book that are obsessed with Downton.  However, the story moved along nicely enough on its own, so I suppose all the plot elements served the purpose they were supposed to.

If you like chick lit, and you like Downton Abbey, this is a fun little quick read that would be perfect summer reading while we all anxiously await Series 5! 

Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5 (hey, it's not exactly high literature)
Reading now: A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander
1. The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman
2. Follow the River by James Alexander
3. Lost in Translation Volume 1 by John Klein and Adam Spears
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Crossed, Reached

I am currently working on an entry solely devoted to the current fascination with dystopian literature, and the Matched series will certainly be a part of that post.  The trilogy, as mentioned in my previous review, takes place in a world where everything is run on data and predicted outcomes.  The Society, which runs civilization as the characters know it, has taken away most choices in life, including the opportunity to be creative and create, in the name of safety and control.  The citizens are all but guaranteed a long, healthy life up to the day they turn eighty - but at what cost to their culture and soul? What is a world with no new poetry, or music, or books?  What kind of place would this be if we had no choices and our lives were dictated entirely by probability and statistics?

And what if there was a resistance movement that rose up in the midst of that society - but it was not all what it seemed?

AND - what if you were caught in the middle of a love triangle while trying to save the people you love from certain death?

These questions give you the basic crux of what the Matched series is all about.  Cassia, the
heroine of the trilogy, learns that the perfect world she has always known is not so perfect, and she has choices to make about what she is going to do about it.  Crossed is centered around her search for the love of her life, Ky.  It's actually told from both Cassia's and Ky's perspectives as they journey separate from each other but moving ever closer to one another.  Reached adds the perspective of Xander, Cassia's perfect society Match, and as the three storytellers unfold the tale together, all questions from the previous books are answered, and you discover that, indeed, nothing is quite a it seems, and sometimes that which we thought was our salvation is really nothing more than another scheme to grab control of our lives.  What choices will Cassia, Ky and Xander make to change their world? 

Overall, this is a good series, and a nice alternative to The Hunger Games and Divergent series.  For one thing, there is so much less violence.  Much less shooting.  For another, I like the approach of examining the loss of a culture.  I can't imagine living in a world where there are only 100 books available, and no one is writing anything further.  Poetry has a huge place of importance in all three novels, and Cassia becomes not only a voice for change but a voice for the resurrection of creating.  While different groups vie for power, the one thing that has been lost entirely is creativity.  Even those that deal with pieces of art from the past are bewildered at the idea of creating new things.  Creativity has become one of the greatest causalities of the war.  The series, in this way, is a commentary on what can happen to society when no one is allowed or encouraged to make anything new - an endless cycle of power struggles and complacency. 

The series does have its weak points.  I felt strangely unsatisfied at the end of Reached.  While I did appreciate the author answering many questions - and pulling together loose threads from the two previous novels - I felt like the conclusion was not quite the resolution I was looking for.  The big question - who is The Pilot? - sort of gets lost in the confusion, and the original meaning of the poem from which the reference came seems to be lost as well.  I felt like we didn't really get to find out what happens to Cassia and the men in her life.  What do they all go on to do?  What does the new society looks like?  I wanted more than was given.  It seemed to end in a soft thud rather than a resounding clang of conclusion.

If you're into dystopian literature, Matched, Crossed and Reached would be good books to act to your reading list.  They will be a refreshing break from all the bullets and bloodthirstyness of Divergent and The Hunger Games.  It will also spark some thought-provoking questions.  But in the end, it may leave you just wanting more. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Reading now: A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander
1. The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman
2. Follow the River by James Alexander
3. Lost in Translation Volume 1 by John Klein and Adam Spears
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Maggie Hope

Last summer I attended a series of literacy education workshops, which actually was a lot more fun than this sentence makes it sound.  My  favorite workshop was about teaching kids to love reading.  The presenter began her session with just getting us to recommend books.  Everyone shared what books they were reading.  Being a hoarder of recommendations, I wrote them all down and have been working my way through the list for the past year.  One of the books recommended, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, was particularly intriguing to me because it incorporated two of my favorite things: Great Britain and history. 

 About a month or so, I finally got the book started - and finished it in 24 hours flat.  I then immediately went to the library, turned it in, and got the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy.  That one took me two or three days simply because I chose to do silly things like feed my children and sleep.  As soon as I inhaled that one, I went back to the library for #3 in the series, His Majesty's Hope.  Locked myself in my room for an entire Sunday afternoon to finish that one.  The next book in the series, The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, comes out in July, and only my training as a Sherlock fan is keeping my afloat until it comes out. 

I have, quite frankly, fallen in literary love with the young, talented and beautiful heroine named Maggie Hope. 

Maggie Hope is a 1940s British citizen who, because of the tragic death of her parents, was raised in American by her aunt.  As was preparing to begin work on her doctorate in mathematics, her English grandmother died and left her an Edwardian house and a whole lot of paperwork to deal with, so off Maggie went to England...where she was swept up in the fervor of pre-war Britain and decided to stay on indefinitely.  As the bombs begin to fall all around her, she secures a job as a secretary at No. 10 Downing Street, and suddenly her life blossoms out into a world of spies and codes and secrecy.  Not only that, but she soon discovers that nothing she has ever believed about her family is precisely the truth, and as she seeks out what really happened to her family, she finds herself in the middle of a web of intrigue that only her brilliant brains can her help her make sense of it all. 

Susan MacNeal has created a wonderful female character that the reader feels like that could sit down and be friends with.  Maggie is smart, funny, doesn't take anything from anyone, and is an entirely likable character.  What's more, MacNeal manages to write a fantastic plot that keeps you guessing clear till the end of the book.  During all three books, there were times I was sure I had it all figured out, only to be completely fooled.  MacNeal also managed to weave in true historical figures without being campy or disrespectful at all, and her research on the time period in question is very well done.  She examines different aspects of war, the culture of 1940s Britain, what was really going on in Germany at the time - all while keeping you enthralled in a mystery thriller that makes it impossible to go to sleep before you finish the book.  Trust me. I tried. 

On a side note, because I like to give my readers the whole picture, I will state for the record that the book is of the PG-13 variety.  There are a few instances of language, violence, and sex scattered throughout the series, and I certainly don't agree with all the life choices of Maggie and her friends.  That being said, the series is still quite enjoyable, and I don't have to agree with everyone in order to enjoy their story. 

Maggie Hope was worth my time checking out.  If you like history, mystery and fast reads, she'll be worth your time as well. 
Reading now: A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander
1. The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman
2. Follow the River by James Alexander
3. Lost in Translation Volume 1 by John Klein and Adam Spears
4. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I'm Making a Comeback

So here is what my past few months included:

- A mother who nearly died of pneumonia and wound up in the ICU on a respirator for a week.
- The dreaded flu working its way through my entire family.  SO. MUCH. VOMIT.
- A husband who lost his job.
- A standardized testing season that was, shall we say...interesting.
- An epidemic of strep that ran through our house...THE ADULTS IN OUR HOUSE.  (Note: having strep throat is like a zillion times worse than having it as a kid.)
- Snow days.  SO. MANY. SNOW DAYS.
- Not one, but TWO puppies joined our household.  (Not just dogs.  PUPPIES.)
- Oh...and I broke my foot.  Ta-da! 

Yeah, these last few months have been a little stressful.  And distracting.  But we are coming out the other side, and God is still on His throne!

So, all that to say, I abandoned the blog world for a while.  I was doing good just to get out of bed in the morning and collapse back into it at night.  But I am BACK, and I have been working on reviews, just for you!  (I may have quit blogging for a while, but you didn't think I quit reading now, did you?)

Starting tomorrow, I hope to get some reviews up on a daily basis.  I have a backlog of books and reviews, so I should be good to go for a while.

See you tomorrow morning - and happy reading!