In last Monday’s blog post, I wrote about three of the books I read in June. Today, I write about three other books I read last month.
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
Having read and liked Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America in February, I was eager to read his new book, The Splendid and the Vile. I listened to The Splendid and the Vile and thoroughly enjoyed it.
This nonfiction book reads like fiction, and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t read like a history book. Erik Larson has a way of doing that. If you aren’t a fan or student of history – specifically World War II era – you might not enjoy The Splendid and the Vile as much as I did.
It follows Winston Churchill and his family and friends. His teenage daughter, Mary, plays an important role as she gives us a glimpse of how a teenage girl would perhaps react to the London Blitz. She very much just wanted to be a teenager.
Mr. Larson weaves a fascinating story of Mr. Churchill and his associates. Being Prime Minister of Great Britain, he was in a position to make friendships and acquaintances with people of power. There were some connections he had with Americans that I hadn’t been aware of. Churchill’s son was a constant source of concern, along with the son’s wife, to put it mildly.
Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique
If you’re a mystery fan, you might want to check out Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique. This is the seventh book in his Sam Blackman series, but you don’t need to have read any of the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. If Mark de Castrique is a new author for you, this is a good novel to start with.
Set in Asheville, North Carolina and the Pisgah Forest area, Iraq War veteran and amputee Sam Blackman is a private investigator. His side kick and love interest is Nakayla Robertson. When a body is discovered on the grounds of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Blackman is called in to unravel a decades old mystery.
When they get too close to solving the murder, their lives are in more danger than they even imagine.
This novel gives interesting background information about the former space program monitoring facility that now collects weather data. It also brings in the flavor of the Asheville music scene. It is sprinkled with the humor that keep Sam and Nakayla together and which balances their private lives with the serious work they do.
If you like a good mystery and want to mentally escape to the North Carolina mountains, give Murder in Rat Alley a try.
The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood
The Chief Engineer for the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, William Roebling becomes quite ill during the years it took to build the bridge. His wife, Emily, had taken a deep interest in his work and started studying his engineering books.
The day comes when William is no longer physically able to go to the worksite. Emily starts going in his place and takes on more and more responsibility for the construction of the bridge.
This is a work of historical fiction based on a bit of truth, but the majority of the novel is indeed fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I was somewhat disappointed to read in the author notes at the end of the book that so much of it was fiction.
I still recommend it as a good read, but you might want to read the author’s notes before reading the book instead of afterwards like I did. For instance, P.T. Barnum plays a major role in the novel, but it turns out he was probably no more than an acquaintance of the Roeblings.
My apologies to the author, Tracey Enerson Wood, for not being able to insert an image of her book in my blog post today. This is her debut novel. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have good creative time this week.
Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.
Too many books, too little time! I got more reading done in
July than I did in June, although a couple of the books I finished last month
were actually started a month or more before. The best part was that I got to
read 3.5 historical novels. Although not based in my favorite time period –
America’s colonial and revolutionary eras – I was pleased with the novels, and
even learned some things from the one I didn’t finish.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson
This historical novel taught me about two aspects of American
history with which I was unfamiliar:
1. Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, Methemoglobinemia, some people in eastern Kentucky had blue skin; and
2. Part of the WPA program during The Great Depression paid people (mostly women) to deliver library books and other reading material to isolated individuals in Kentucky.
The Book Woman of
Troublesome Creek is a fictionalized story of one such “Book Woman.” Cussy
had blue skin and was, therefore, an outcast. She loved her job of delivering
reading materials to her regular patrons. She rode a mule to do her work.
Cussy faced many dangers at home and on her book route, and
this novel takes you along with her as she continually shows courage in the
face of extreme poverty and personal vulnerability as a blue-skinned woman.
The first third or half of the book got a little tedious, as
it seemed like most of Cussy’s days were pretty much like all her other days
with the occasion father-arranged male visitors who came her way. As I recall,
to a man, she found her gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) callers to be
disgusting. Her father was desperate to marry her off because he’s promised
Cussy’s mother he would.
Spoiler alert: Her
father finally marries her off and it doesn’t begin or end well.
I’m glad I read the book because the story of those Kentucky WPA horseback and mule-riding librarians was something I hadn’t known about. I also didn’t know about Methemoglobinemia. I like books that teach me something. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of how we can learn from good historical fiction.
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal
Secretary is the first book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia
MacNeal. I read the fifth book in the series, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante three years ago. I enjoyed it and have
had Ms. MacNeal’s other Maggie Hope novels on my To Be Read List ever since. I
wanted to go back and begin with the first book in the series. Now I look
forward to reading the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.
You might recall that Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was one of the books I was reading when I wrote my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/. I was trying to read too many books at the same time, and I didn’t finish this Susan Elia MacNeal novel until July. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s merely proof that I try to read more books than I can finish in a reasonable length of time.
Secretary takes place in London in 1940. Graduating at the top of her
class, Maggie is highly-qualified to be a spy for the British government;
however, being female, at first she is relegated to being a typist at No. 10
Downing Street for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Part of the time Maggie Hope is assigned to decoding at Bletchley Park. Here’s a link to a great four-minute interview with Betty Webb and Joy Aylard who actually worked there during World War II: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dgj2k. The program was part of the BBC’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (I’m now getting a message saying I can’t watch the clip at my location, but maybe you can where you are. A friend in Belgium sent it to me on Facebook.) If the BBC link doesn’t work, perhaps you can still find it on https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisonWriter/. I posted the video there on July 29, 2019. While you’re there, I invite you to “like” my writer’s Facebook page.
The copy of Mr.
Churchill’s Secretary that I read included several pages of author’s notes
at the end. It was interesting to learn how Ms. MacNeal wove real people and
fictional people into this cohesive story. She also gave some research facts
she discovered and what inspired her to write the novel.
The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan
This is an engaging historical novel set in London during
World War II. Many novels have been published over the last several years in
conjunction with the 75th anniversaries of various events of that
war. I’ve read a number of them, but The
Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan stands out in my mind.
You might be surprised at who the spies in the story are.
You’ll be surprised when some very unlikely people find themselves spying on
the British Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Woven throughout is a story of the
estrangement between an adult daughter and her mother. There are family secrets
that are eventually revealed.
If you follow my blog, you know I’m generally not a fan of
listening to a novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.
I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Ryan has in store for us in her next novel. Perhaps you’ve read her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I also gave it five stars. If you want to see what I said about that book, here’s a link to my April 1, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/.
The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander
I’ve mentioned The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander in several of my blog posts including https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/08/three-other-books-i-read-in-march-2019/ on April 8, 2019. I’ve become a fan of V.S. Alexander’s historical novels. It’s just personal preference, but The Irishman’s Daughter didn’t hold my attention like Alexander’s first two novels, The Magdalen Girls (2017) and The Taster (2018.)
Alexander does a brilliant job of research and has a talent
for sharing research without beating the reader over the head with info dumps.
The Irishman’s Daughter takes place in Ireland during The Great Potato Famine. The father in the story oversees an estate for an absentee landlord. He has two daughters. One dreams of marrying the rich landlord, who is oblivious to the poverty and starvation faced by his tenants. The other daughter is emotionally moved by the dire situation and tries to stretch their little bit of food with as many people as she possibly can. She longs to marry a local farmer.
I must admit that I did not finish reading this book. With other books vying for my attention, this one just didn’t grab me. I’ve read good things about the book, though, so I’ll give it another try when I get a chance.
V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Traitor, is scheduled for publication on February 25, 2020. Although I didn’t like The Irishman’s Daughter as much as Alexander’s earlier books, I’ll get on the waitlist for The Traitor at the public library as soon as it’s ordered.