There is a running joke about the weight of my vacation book bag(s) among my friends, particularly the friends that help me carry them. A suggestion was made for me to consider paperbacks this year. What? I like to read new books, hardcover and hot off the press! (Also, an easy trick to be sure I haven’t already read a book.) But, to be a team player, I decided to look at some paperbacks, and came across Gardenias, a 2006 novel by author Faith Sullivan. Gardenias is told from the point of view of Lark, a 10ish year old girl whose mother, Arlene, and aunt, Betty, flee their husbands in Minnesota for promise of a better, more fulfilling life in California. The three manage to get a place in a development built to house people working at Consolidated, and both women find jobs. The development known as “The Project” is wartime housing, and is filled with semi-transient people, uprooted during World War II. The reader gets to know them through their interactions with Lark and her mother.
Lark is our narrator, and her voice is stunning and poignant, reminiscent of classic child narrators. She meets Shirley, a completely neglected, rude and outspoken girl from the neighborhood, who comes and goes without invitation. When Arlene buys a second-hand piano, Betty begins to teach Shirley. Shirley is musically gifted, and practicing the piano is somewhat of a saving grace in her troubled life. While Lark doesn’t want to learn the piano, she resents the attention Shirley receives, and resents Shirley in general. Her mom and aunt are always tolerant of Shirley, if not down right kind to her. The rest of the world is not.
Gardenias is the continuation of the story started in The Cape Ann. The characters are richly developed, and their resolutions I could accept. The book is a pensive one, but one worth reading.
The Amber Shadows, Lucy Ribchester’s sophomore novel, is a fantastic mystery set in Bletchley Park in 1942. Honey Dechamps is a Type X Machine worker in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the Germans. Walking home one night, she meets Felix and his greyhound; he gives her a package with Russian postmarks and the branding of two censors. Inside in a piece of amber. Honey continues to receive these packages, and tries to piece together the puzzle, figure out who Felix is, and protect her job in Hut 6. Her quest involves friends, family, co-workers, and a cryptic puzzle for this reader as I tried to solve the mystery before Honey.
I really enjoyed The Amber Shadows. It flew under my upcoming releases radar, and was the last book I unpacked from a Baker and Taylor order at the library. If it had been the first book, we might still be waiting for the rest of those books! I liked the look into Bletchley Park, and found my curiosity nurtured. My last glimpse was when The Bletchley Circle aired on PBS a few years ago. I liked the detail, the pace, and the ending of that series. The Amber Shadows sent me on a search for more information about Bletchley-images of the huts, the decoding machines, the people who worked there-as well as more stories featuring these British code-breakers. I think I will need to watch The Imitation Game, starring Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch. I hope you will give The Amber Shadows a try!
Bletchley Park is a place of exceptional historical importance. It remains highly relevant to our lives today and for the future. It is the home of British code-breaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict.
Some Bletchley images…
For more information, see http://www.bletchleypark.uk.org
Many Mainers have heard the story of the Northwoods Hermit, but is it just an urban legend? Journalist Michael Finkel says no, and sets out to give us the truth in Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.
The hermit in question is Christopher Knight. Knight grew up near Albion, Maine and later moved to Massachusetts. At age 20, he drove his car until he ran out of gas, parked it on the side of the road, and then walked into the woods. He didn’t come out until he was arrested some 27 years later by a warden sergeant with some high-tech surveillance equipment, determined to out whomever had been stealing from summer camps near North Pond for over two decades. The only journalist he spoke to after his arrest and during his incarceration was Michael Finkel.
So why read this remarkable, albeit a bit strange, story? First, proximity for Mainers and people who visit Maine. Second, discuss-ability. It seems like everyone I talk to is, has, or plans to read it. A friend of mine told me Stranger in the Woods was her 2017 Office Summer Read (an idea I LOVE!) Third, national coverage of the story. I discovered this story has been written about in GQ, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, National Geographic… Fourth: is the story really true? Could someone survive in the Maine woods year round without building a camp fire, without help from others and without sleeping in a house? Could Knight be forgiven for thieving and scaring so many families because he only stole what he needed and tried not to ever steal when people where at home? (For example, he stole a backpack but left the passports from the backpack in the home.) Did Knight really not speak to another human being for 27 years, with the exception of “hi” to a hiker he saw on a trail? What drove Knight to the woods and why didn’t his family ever report him missing?
What do you think?
Maggie Hope is back, in World War II Paris, and things are not as light and neatly wrapped. The Paris Spy is a new release, and the seventh book in this mystery series. Maggie was a typist for Winston Churchill when we first met her; now she is an SOE (Special Operations Executive) spy living in Paris and keeping company with Coco Chanel. Sarah and Hugh are also spies for Great Britain, and Maggie’s half-sister, Elise factors in as well. Maggie’s mission is to find a traitor among the ranks, locate information crucial to the invasion of Normandy, and defend the validity and usefulness of the SOE; her personal mission is to find Elise, reconcile, and bring her home. As events unfold, this reader was not even sure Maggie would make it home alive.
MacNeal has returned with another winner. The Paris Spy has more meat to it than her previous novels, and relays the seriousness of war for all of her characters. I may know how the war ended, but I couldn’t assume the endings for any of these spies. It will be a long year waiting for another installment to see what happens next!