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!
If I can’t be Nancy Drew, please make me Poppy Denby!
I recently finished The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith, a British writer extraordinaire from Newcastle upon Tyne. She began her writing career as a journalist; her writing style and insider knowledge are valuable assets. This first book of a new series introduces us to Poppy Denby, a young twenty something who moves to London to live with her aunt, a paraplegic and suffragette in the 1920s. Poppy, an aspiring writer, gets a job as an editorial assistant at the Daily Globe. She meets photographer Daniel Rokeby about the time newspaper hack Bert Isaacs dies a messy death before submitting his lead story for the morning edition. Poppy finds his notes, finishes the story and is a sensation, albeit a sensation embroiled in a mystery and a great deal of newspaper politics.
I really enjoyed this series debut, loved Poppy and the other characters, and can’t wait for The Kill Fee, the second novel, to arrive inter-library loan. There is a nice pace to the Smith’s writing, a fun story, as well as a great period piece. I see potential for many more Poppy Denby Investigates mysteries.
Every once in a while, I find a book that sparks inspiration, and often gratitude. I love to tuck one of these volumes in my vacation book bag, especially when I know I will be in a beautiful place with family and friends. The Way of Gratitude: Readings for a Joyful Life is the book I included earlier this August on our annual trip to stay on Kineo, a small island with a mountain in the middle of Moosehead Lake. We stay for a week with three other families, we leave our cars on the mainland, and we put our phones down for some unplugged and adventurous quality time together.
I loved to start my day by the water with a cup of coffee and The Way of Gratitude, noodling a poem by Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry, a meditation by James Martin or Thomas Merton, or a short essay by Anne Lamott. Some readings are spiritual, others may seem religious, and still others very secular. The Way of Gratitude is a small book, filled with the writings of 100 authors. There are poems, anecdotes, short essays, quotations…really a variety of ways of expressing gratitude by a variety of writers. This is a “something for everyone” book that can become an “everything for me” book. You can read it all, pick and choose, or just open to a page and see what the entry says to you.
What I read gives me a lens for the day. The words of these “specialists” encourage me on a hike, echo in the laughter around the dinner table, reverberate in conversations on the porch, and color a walk with one of the kids on a windy afternoon. If you are looking for a little lift this fall, maybe a way to re-frame the change of seasons and all that goes with it, give The Way of Gratitude: Readings for a Joyful Life a look-see.
Summer in Maine…these are the days that carry me through the snow and slush and darkness of winter in Maine. How then, could I imagine journeying to Cocoa Beach, Florida with Virginia Fitzwilliam to settle her husband’s estate? Oh, easily!
When we are introduced to Virginia, she is a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I, serving in the thick of the battlefields of France. She transports a wounded but handsome and intriguing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, and falls in love with him during his recovery. They definitely have charisma and passion, but are they a lasting match?
Simon and Virginia marry, but live separately, Virginia and their daughter in New York City and the Captain in Florida. Five years later, news of his death sends Virginia to his estate. She doubts he has died in the fire that burned down the seaside home he built for their family, and her doubts increase as she stumbles upon Prohibition era rum running and other less than legal business pursuits connecting back to her husband. Looking for the truth about the man she loved, Virginia becomes tangled in danger that will threaten both her life and the life of her daughter.
I am a Beatriz Williams fan. There is a glamorous escapism to her novels that is just right. I have enjoyed knowing characters through a series of books, seeing the focus change from person to person, but at the same time, found these new people and their new locales a positive change, and Cocoa Beach a good read, any season of the year.
Vivian Witchell is rising through the ranks at WCHI, a Chicago radio station in the 1930s. From cameos on less sought after productions to a bigger role in the popular radio show “The Darkness Knows,” Vivian’s potential seems to increase daily. When she finds another star, Marjorie Fox, murdered in the station, she moves seamlessly into a new part: private detective. A note threatening Lorna (Vivian’s character on Darkness) adds incentive to finding the murderer. Luckily, PI Charles Haverman is on the job.
The Darkness Knows is pure delight. It is a delicious, pleasurable read with a comfortable predictability, which can be very enjoyable. Vivian is like-able, Chicago in the 1930s as described by Honigford has some curb appeal for this reader, and you get a decent mystery without the graphic details some thrillers boast. Some reviewers criticize the predictability and the choice on the author’s part not to play up the setting more, and to be a bit less likely in her plot. I say this is the first of a series. We need to begin to get the lay of the land, get to know the characters and explore their relationships both real and potential. I for one, look forward to Holidays on Ice, Honigford’s second installment. If like me, you read Nancy Drew mysteries by the armful as a child, and read mysteries by the author/series as an adult voraciously, give The Darkness Knows a try.