Sunday, March 26, 2017

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear ****

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear is a historical novel leading up to September 30, 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain infamously appeased Adolf Hitler and gave his "peace for our time" speech. The protagonist is Maisie Dobbs who is temporarily convinced to become a British secret agent and go to Munich under an assumed identity to rescue a boffin (technical expert/inventor) imprisoned by the SS and Gestapo.

Maisie is a wonderful female protagonist, especially in 1938. She accepts the conditions of her time, but also has great inner strength and confidence. This is her thought about being trained to shoot a gun.
"She always considered reason to be the most powerful weapon in any arsenal, ..."
When the embassy demands she "submit daily timetable," her response is "Well, we'll see about that."

An excellent historical novel of the rise of Hilter which somehow seems especially relevant in the current political climate.

The book gives a good presentation of the Munich in 1938 through setting, culture, and language. Every so often, the dialogue seems suspiciously modern, as in this case:
"Because after everything you've been told in this little meeting, if you say no, I'll have to kill you."


Thursday, March 23, 2017

What We Find by Robyn Carr ****

My first Harlequin Romance. Sure enough, at around page 100, What We Find by Robyn Carr includes a multi-page sex scene, leading 100 pages later to ultimate sex.
"When a man gives all of himself to a woman who gives everything she has, the bond is so powerful it can be the ultimate fulfillment."
The two main characters are Maggie Sullivan and Cal Jones, a brain surgeon and a defense lawyer, respectively. Both are going through traumatic life experiences and have retreated to backwoods of Colorado. I found the characters realistic, sympathetic and interesting.

An enjoyable read for all who appreciate Cal's mission statement: "I want to build a healthy, balanced family life in a beautiful place with the woman I love."

However, a few things kept bouncing me out of the story.

About every 50 pages, more or less, I ran into a sentence or two I had to read over and over to understand.
She sighed. "My dad says I have high expectations of myself," she said, when in fact it was she who carried those expections.
It was over an hour before it was their turn to appear.
I read this as "It was finished an hour before..." It should have been read as "It was longer than an hour before..."

These missteps reminded me that there were an author and editors between me and the story.

After this I imagined editors adding details that do little to the story except to satisfy a small number of picky specialists. This is from an exciting scene where our heroine is being lowered over a ledge. First, some editor required her to wear a helmet. Then some other editor required an explanation for the availability of the helmet. I hope they are happy.
"Someone else handed her a helmet, which was just dumb luck -- they didn't typically wear helmets on the trails."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead *****


"Stolen bodies working stolen land"
Throughout the history of the United States from the Declaration of Independence to the present, black Americans have had to walk a line between life and liberty and violent suppression. Two authors have recently demonstrated this delicate balance with their writing. I reviewed Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly a few months ago and now I have The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Both books deliver an engaging story with small slices of terror and brutality slipped in between. Anyone who wishes to ignore the history of murder and abuse can easily do so, reading the books like I watch medical shows on TV. I close my eyes at any hint of blood. I will follow their lead with my comments. Slavery was horrific, now on to the story.

Whitehead chronicles the The Underground Railroad  by focusing on different people associated with it, including escaped slaves, railroad conductors, and slave catchers. However the main character is Cora who escapes from a plantation in Georgia and travels throughout the antebellum United States. One of the ways Whitehead lightens the story is by conceiving of The Underground Railroad as an actual underground railroad. The introduction of fantasy reminds me of Mary Poppins' spoonful of sugar.

Whether you want the brutal history and a fantasy, this is the book for you. The writing and storytelling are excellent.

In between the black and the white, the book is full of many subtle reminders of the ups and down of history.

At an optimistic rally, a negro leader gives the following speech that will be repeated again and again over the next two centuries.
"By proving the negro's thrift and intelligence...he will enter into American society as a productive member with full rights....We need to slow things down. Reach an accommodation with our neighbors and, most of all, stop activities that will force their wrath upon us."
The book is not above defending delusion.
"We can't save everyone. But that doesn't mean we can't try. Sometimes a useful delusion is better than a useless truth."
An excellent book regardless of your approach to it. A masterpiece.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson *****

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson in a contemporary western about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. He is assisted by Henry Standing Bear, also known as the Cheyenne Nation, and undersheriff Victoria Moretti, usually called Vic. Vic drives an orange dodge that can go about 200 mph.

This is a book of clever nicknames and dialogue. The Cheyenne Nation's car is named Lola after the old girlfriend Lola Wojciechowski. Lola drives a gold '66 Cadillac DeVille. Walt's granddaughter Lola is named after the car. There are two bad guys named Frick and Frack. You get the idea.

Vic signs up for a skeet shooting competition.
I nudged her shoulder. "Scared?"
She barked a laugh. "Hell with that; I'm used to targets that shoot back.
Clever dialogue.

Between the names and the dialogue, the story flies by. An engaging page-turner. There is a mystery, but I think the fun is in the reading and the plot is just a bonus.

I rarely mention typos, even though they seem to be on the increase. I would never say anything about a small press or independent author, but this is a  Penguin Random House book, and the typo has to do with numbers.

The story revolves about time trials. The first time posted is 14.01 seconds. This time is beaten by 14 seconds flat. The final winner finishes in 13:59. 13:59, as in 13 minutes and 59 seconds? It should have been 13.99.