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Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Beautiful Spy. The Last Goodnight by Howard Blum

When a handsome old flame offered to write Betty Pack's biography, she slipped out of her older husband's French castle, and had a whirlwind romance with him in Ireland where she told him her adventures. And what adventures they were! The beautiful and well-bred American spy rescued an aristocrat from prison during the Spanish Civil War, rescued the British Ambassador from the same war, and passed on top-secret intelligence to London from bedrooms in Warsaw and dark streets in Prague.  She was the mistress of the 'honey-trap' and slept with many men in order to obtain their secrets. She was amoral, betraying her husband and deserting her son for the cause, but, according to Howard Blum, she even managed to change the course of World War Two!

I found this lively, well-written book about 'Cynthia' with its vivid descriptions difficult to put down.  I did wonder whether the author was half-in-love with his subject, however! She was likeable, but she was very selfish at times.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

In The Company of Dolphins by Irwin Shaw

(Aerial view of Saint Tropez, Wikipedia)
This account of a yacht cruise through the Mediterranean was the perfect book to read after The Red Wake! Shaw describes an idyllic trip through the spectacular coastline in the nineteen-sixties with his wife and son.  There were not as many tourists then and it really was a dreamlike world.  It reminded me of visiting Alassio with my parents when I was 11!

Shaw came from poverty but he certainly rose to live a jetset lifestyle.  During his voyage, he catches up with friends, such as the famous French writer Francoise Sagan, who wrote Bonjour Tristesse as a teenager, and the Australian Alan Moorehead.  This is a great book to dip into now and again to see how the wealthy and famous live, and to read about the beautiful Mediterranean!

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

The Red Wake by Kurt Johnson

(Chernobyl, Wikipedia)

As Kurt Johnson writes: 'History is a substance with weight and the more riven with tragedy the heavier it becomes'.  When Johnson decides to try to understand the world his grandparents left behind, he doesn't realise what he is letting himself in for! This is a dark tale of travels through the remains of a once horrific Gulag, war-torn countries of the former Soviet Union and even deserted Chernobyl with its irradiated animals.

It's all terrifically bleak and most of the people who Johnson writes about seem to be either depressed or strange, but the history is very interesting, especially the conflicts between the Christians and the Muslims and it also makes the yearning for Communism and even Stalin which affects the Russia of today clearer.  It's obviously a very unhappy place and Johnson should be praised for putting himself through all this! He manages to weave history, travel and memoir into a book which is worth reading if you want to find out more about the former Soviet Union.

I received this book from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A Savvy Sister. Sister Eve and the Blue Nun: A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery by Lynne Hinton

When Sister Eve's friend Kelly, a young lecturer, is killed by drinking cyanide in her tea, she is shocked and horrified.  Who could have murdered her? Was it her brother, Brother Anthony, who was upset with Kelly because she was about to make secret information that he'd given her about a nun who had committed miracles by appearing to a tribe of Native Americans when she was in Spain public? His actions after her death seem rather suspect, but he is a good friend of Sister Eve, and she doesn't think that he could have committed murder.

Sister Eve wonders if she should even become involved because she is struggling to decide whether to remain a nun or work with her irascible father, Jack Devine.  However, she is determined to find out the truth.  Can she cope with the dangers involved? How will she handle her attraction to a certain handsome detective? Will she eventually return to her beloved New Mexico?

This is an enjoyable and well-written mystery with a likeable 'streetwise' sister who rides a motorcycle and an interesting plot. Some reviewers have pointed out that she lies rather a lot, considering that she's a nun, however! he intrigues and rivalries of the community were well-done.  I also liked learning more about New Mexico and the snippets about its art, culture and history.

I will definitely read more books by Lynne Hinton.

I received this free book from BookLook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Big Change Frederick Lewis Allen

Although I really enjoyed reading about the incredibly wealthy Vanderbilts, Morgans and Carnegies, I didn't finish this book because I found parts of it a bit text-bookish and dry. It's a good book to read if you want to study this era of American history in great detail.

I may continue reading it later.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Everything Love Is by Claire King

In the dramatic beginning of this book, a young mother gives birth on a train and suddenly dies. No one knows who she is.  Her son, Baptiste, is adopted by the childless woman who tries to help his mother, and yearns for his mother and his true identity.

Many years afterwards, Baptiste lives a lovely life on a houseboat in France, where he counsels people and plays the piano.  He has great insight into other people's problems and he loves his work, but love remains elusive. Can Baptiste manage to find true love with the one woman who understands him?

This is a beautifully written and utterly charming book, but I did find it a little bit confusing with its flashbacks and tendency to jump between characters and situations.  Also, it was all written in lower-case which was hard to get used to, but it was a moving love story and I'll certainly be reading much more of the wonderful Claire King!

I received this free ebook published by Bloomsbury from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Roald Dahl by Jeremy Treglown

This was well-written and enjoyable for people interested in Roald Dahl.  I must be one of the very few people who didn't read his books when I was a child, so I decided not to finish the book.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp

(A nutmeg tree, Wikimedia Commons)

Julia sings in the bath even though her furniture is being taken away, the bailiffs are at the door, and she is an out-of-work and aging actress! However, she does have some happy news.  Her daughter Susan, who has been raised by her proper upper middle-class grandparents, is about to get married and she needs her.  Julia rushes off to a beautiful country house in France only to find that her daughter is a prig and she recognizes a kindred spirit in twinkling-eyed Bryan, her daughter's fiancĂ©e.
They are not suited at all! What is Julia going to do? The arrival of Sir William, Susan's guardian, also puts a spanner in the works...

I could hardly put this fast-moving novel down with its charming heroine and her amusing adventures, its descriptions of the gorgeous French scenery, and its sweet love stories.  I was sad to finish it! More of the wonderful Margery Sharp, please.

I received this free eBook from Open Road Integrated Media via Net Galley.

A Hero of France by Alan Furst

In the midst of occupied France, Mathieu helps Allied airmen escape. He is assisted by many people, including young Lisette who delivers messages by bicycle and beautiful and aristocratic Anne Marie, but when he is offered several thousands of dollars, he has to decide who he can trust... He must also keep away from Major Broehm who is sent to France to destroy the escape networks.

Kind-hearted and funny Mathieu is a likeable character and this is an atmospheric and enjoyable novel.  However, I prefer some of the other novels of Alan Furst, such as The Spies of Warsaw with its noble hero.  I found this one a little bit too much like an airport novel at times and it had some unnecessarily sordid scenes, I thought.  I look forward to his next book, though!

I received this free eBook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Eternal Party by Kristina Hagman and Elizabeth Kaye

When Larry Hagman was on his deathbed, he asked his daughter Kristina to forgive him.  He didn’t say the reasons, so she decided to go on a journey back in time to find out.  This is her story…
Was it because of his several affairs?  After he died, former mistresses would tell Kristina how much Hagman meant to them which Kristina, unsurprisingly, found quite insensitive.  He had a long and very happy marriage, however. He even tried to care for his Swedish designer wife by himself when she got Alzheimer’s.

Was it because he was often drunk or on drugs, mostly marijuana?  People who grew up watching Hagman as the straight-laced Tony in ‘I Dream Of Jeannie’ will find this book, especially this part of it disillusioning.  Apparently, Hagman was really a somewhat left-wing hippie who searched for enlightenment, even taking LSD. 

Was it because Kristina’s parents were loving, but quite negligent with her care?  Although Hagman’s family spent a lot of time outdoors (he loved hunting and fishing) and she liked that, she had an unstable childhood and she had bad experiences.  Her beloved grandmother Mary Martin took better care of her.  It surprised me that she was jealous of Kate Burton, the daughter of Sybil and Richard Burton, who seemed to have had a ‘meticulous’ upbringing.

This is an interesting and well-written autobiography, although rather sordid at times.  It certainly shows the power of resilience.

I received this free book from Net Galley in return   for an honest review.

Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

Quai in Paris, Wikipedia

This clever detective story by Cara Black will keep you turning the page until the very last minute!

At the beginning, Aimee, the young daughter of a detective, is struggling with her medical degree and upset with her handsome boyfriend who has left her for another woman.  She is also angry with her father who has disappeared and left her to run an errand to help a cousin Elise, whose father has been murdered.

Aimee becomes more and more involved in the search for the killer, which involves her in a lot of dangerous journeys through seamy parts of Paris.  When other men are murdered in similar ways, Aimee starts to wonder about a connection.  Does it have anything to do with the war and the Resistance?

I really enjoyed this exciting tale. Aimee is a very likeable, brave and well-rounded character and the atmosphere of 1989 Paris is so vivid that I felt that I was travelling through its famous streets with her.  She is even amusing at times.

There were a few flaws, I thought. I found the story a bit complicated and I felt that the ending was devised to make readers want to read the next book in the series.  However, I would want to do that anyway!  I wasn’t sure about the politics at times.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.