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review 2018-08-21 19:37
Assignment in Brittany / Helen MacInnes
Assignment in Brittany - Helen MacInnes

OCCUPIED BRITTANY, 1940...

Hearne looked at the unfamiliar watch on his wrist. Three hours ago he had joked with the red-haried pilot over a last cup of hot chocolate. Three hours ago he had stood on English earth. Three hours ago he had been Martin Hearne with 27 yrs of his life behind him.

Now he was Bertrand Corlay, with 26 yrs of another man's life reduced to headings and sub-headings in his memory. He looked down at the faded uniform which had been Corlay's, feld once more for the papers in the inside pocket.

All set. He patted the pocked of the tunic wich his earth-stained hand, and smiled grimly. From now on, he would not only have to speak, but think, in French ...

 

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

How is it that I have never run into Helen MacInnes before this? If I ever do another reading project featuring espionage literature, I will definitely be adding more of her work to the reading list!

The premise is an unlikely one—after a WWII battle, someone notices an injured Breton man who looks just like an active English spy. Not only does this spy Hearne uncannily resemble the disabled man, but he also speaks Breton (a pretty obscure Celtic language) and has studied the culture. He spends a great deal of time interviewing the Breton fellow, learning as many details of his life in his small village as possible and then is parachuted in, to report back on Nazi activity in the area.

I have to hand it to MacInnes, she handles this rather unlikely scenario so skillfully that I soon gave up my reservations and plunged wholeheartedly into the story. It’s a good, tense plot with excellent pacing. First Hearne must deal with “his” closest family and fiancée while passing off his differentness as shell shock. But it turns out that he has exchanged places with a pretty unlikeable guy and his own honourable behaviour causes others to question his real identity. Will they unmask Hearne or will they help him with his mission?

The very first thing I thought of when starting this novel was Tana French’s second Dublin Murder Squad book, The Likeness, where a young detective, Cassie Maddox, is called to a murder scene. The victim is Cassie’s double, using a fake identity developed by Cassie when she was undercover. Of course, Cassie gets sent into the life of the dead girl to see what she can discover. French also was able to carry off that most unlikely scenario, in my opinion, through the sheer brilliance of her writing. I’d really like to think that she maybe got her idea from Helen MacInnes.

I love finding great writers and finding links between the works of authors that I enjoy. This book was a win in both of those columns.

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text 2018-08-21 10:56
Toucan Keep a Secret (Meg Langslow, #22)
Toucan Keep a Secret - Donna Andrews

I was going to save this book for Bingo, but I'm hoping to attend a few panels Donna Andrews is on at Bouchcon, and it seemed appropriate to be up to date on my favorite series beforehand.

 

The story didn't work as well for me as others have, but it did feel edgier, which was a compelling surprise.  The criminal suspects are really criminals, and at one point someone shoots at Meg.  Not the standard fair for Meg and her eccentric and fabulous family. 

 

Even though I say it's not as strong as others in the series, it's still better than most cozies out there right now.  It's definitely the best humorous cozy series you're going to find, and Andrews has the awards to prove it.  The plotting is still strong too, even after 22 books - I certainly never came close to guessing the ending.

 

Opening one of these books is like coming home to your favorite people, where everyone is kind, funny, competent and believes in something bigger than themselves, whether it's family, community, God, or all of the above. 

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review 2018-08-20 04:39
The Solitary Summer
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

 

This was a buddy read with Themis Athena.

 

The Solitary Summer is a follow up to Elizabeth and Her German Gardenthey don't have to be read in any order, but Solitary Summer takes place in the same garden, about three years later.

 

I went into this book naively assuming that the "Solitary" in the title mean Elizabeth at home, alone, in her garden, for the entire summer.  While I made allowances for servants, I figured she'd sent Man of Wrath and her three children off somewhere for the summer, either together or separately. 

 

Shows what I know; the Solitary in the title means nothing of the sort.  It simply means Elizabeth and her husband agree that for one summer, May through August, there will be no guests descending on the house, expecting Elizabeth to perform hostess duties.  100 years ago, I suppose that would feel like a kind of solitude, but personally, if I were being subjected to the daily demands of husband and three daughters, I'd have long before whipped out my Sharpie pen and blacked out the entry for 'solitude' in all my dictionaries and been done with the concept.

 

Moving on from my luxurious pre-conceived notions, the book is ostensibly about Elizabeth spending the summer in her garden, free from hostessing duties, and therefore free to loll about in her garden all day, book in hand, alternately reading and soaking in the paradise surrounding anyone in a garden, wood, and field.  When she's not feeding her family, or handing out food to the servants, or entertaining her daughters.  The solitary moments do happen, in May and most of June, but after a spate of gales whip through, the tone of the book alters perceptibly; less garden, more musings on philosophy, reading, morality, class and village life.  

 

In my opinion, even though I picked this up in eager anticipation of the garden-geek-fest, it's the second half that should not be missed.  Elizabeth is a rare breed; she's able to stand apart from herself, to see herself and events around her with objectivity, brutal honesty, and wry wit.  She does not rationalise, she does not excuse or defend, she simply observes:  this is they way things/I should be, this is the way things/I are(am).  It's refreshing to hear this kind of voice, and if it doesn't make you think one way or the other, ... well, never mind.  But the issues she addresses in her musings are at least as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, with the exception of enforced quartering of troops and servant housing. 

 

From what little I know so far about Elizabeth von Arnim's background, her husband isn't what anyone today would call a gem; she calls him Man of Wrath for heaven's sake, and I doubt she's using the term ironically.  But there are moments of accord between the two, as well as many scenes of shared humour and witty banter that lead me to suspect their relationship was far more complex than history will likely remember it being, and I'm eager to find out more about them both to see if my suspicions stand up to available facts.

 

Either way, I like her.  I suspect, were we contemporaries and life brought us into each other's orbit, we'd be friends - or at least appreciate each other's love of nature, sarcasm, and our disdain for too many guests.

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text 2018-08-19 21:00
Summer of Spies - Tracking Post
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes
Blowback - Valerie Plame Wilson,Sarah Lovett,Negin Farsad
The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth
The Spy - Paulo Coelho
Zoo Station - David Downing
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book - Simon Vance,Peter Finn,Petra Couvée
Night Soldiers - Alan Furst
Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government - Valerie Plame Wilson,Laura Rozen
I Will Repay - Emmuska Orczy,Johanna Ward
The Lifeline - Phyllis Bottome

Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018

 

Finished, to Date:

Fiction

Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***

Ian Fleming: Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2

Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2

Stella Rimington: Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal) ****

John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (audio, narrated by Jeremy Northam) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad (new / audio, narrated by Emilia Fox) ***1/2

Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new / audio, narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers) ***1/2

Len Deighton: Berlin Game (new / audio, narrated by James Lailey) ****

Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (new / print) ****

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new / print) ****1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson, Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new / audio, narrated by Negin Farsad) ***

Patricia Wentworth: The Traveller Returns (new / print) ****

Paulo Coelho: The Spy (new / English print version + German audio, narrated by Luise Helm and Sven Görtz) ***1/2

David Downing: Zoo Station (new / print) ****

Alan Furst: Night Soldiers (new / audio, narrated by George Guidall) ****1/2

 

 

Emmuska Orczy: Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2

I Will Repay (new / audio, narrated by Johanna Ward) ****

 

 

John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****

The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2

Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****

 

 

Nonfiction

Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition) ****

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair (new / audio, narrated by Simon Vance) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government  (new / audio, narrated by the author) ****

 
 

Currently Reading:

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline
 

 

 

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review 2018-08-17 11:28
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding (Her Royal Spyness, #12)
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding - Rhys Bowen

This series is always enjoyable, even when the plots aren't as good as they could be.  Luckily, even though the title is really a stretch, the plot of this one isn't.  I can imagine how it might have happened back in the day of the aristocracy owning multiple estates they often didn't visit for long stretches of time.

 

The subplot of the book is the culmination of 11 previous books filled with the flirting and courting between Darcy and Georgie - the wedding.  I was struck with trepidation at the beginning of the book as Georgie spies a pretty woman standing next to Darcy and immediately falls into a pit of despair; I dislike characters that don't embrace their own self worth.  Happily, it was a fleeting scene, and the rest of the (minimal) wedding related story-line was full of delicious revenge as Georgie gets to watch her evil sister-in-law fume over Georgie's close relationship with the King and Queen.  The scene where she tells Fig who her bridesmaids are was one of the best.

 

Overall, an enjoyable read.

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