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The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent

The Prime Minister's Secret AgentIt’s the fall of 1941 in England, and the world stands on the brink of destruction. By night, the bombs drop. By day, exhausted Londoners go about their daily business. As do a network of spies – specialists in deceit – determined to stop Hitler and all he stands for. Maggie Hope never expected to be one of them. Shattered from her undercover experiences in Berlin, she is assigned to share her expertise in the training of future SOE agents.

 

Britain stands alone; the United States merrily jitterbugs, packing Bundles for Britain, remaining determined to stay out of European affairs. Winston Churchill despairs that FDR will never come to England’s aid. Determined to defend the realm whatever the cost, Churchill authorizes the development of chemical weapons.

 

But the war is about more than the plans of politicians. It’s about the people who must make deeply personal decisions about their involvement. When a dear friend of Maggie’s is accidentally affected by the secret experiments being conducted in Scotland, Maggie must decide how far she will go to find a killer, save a friend and her country.

 

Meticulously researched, and based on the stories of true spies, political and military events, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is sure to please historical fiction readers as well as lovers of mystery and suspense. Susan Elia MacNeal is a master at creating the backdrop of war and the heartbreak of those involved. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Laura Wilson will be delighted with this latest entry in the Maggie Hope series.

Leanne

 
 

The Sweet Life Isn’t Easy

The Sweet Life Isn’t Easy

posted by:
June 26, 2014 - 7:00am

Queen SugarNatalie Baszile tackles several tough topics in her novel Queen Sugar. Protagonist Charley, a single mother, has to create a whole new life for herself as a black woman in rural Louisiana. She has to deal with the loss of loved ones, confront prejudice and raise a strong, proud daughter. It is only with the help of her grandmother, Miss Honey, that she is even able to attempt this new beginning.

 

After Charley’s father passed away, she was surprised to learn that he had left her a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She’d always considered herself a city girl from California, but it had been four years since her husband passed away, and she and her 11-year-old daughter Micah were in need of a change.

 

When Charley and Micah arrive in Louisiana, they realized that the plantation manager had given up long ago and the fields were in dire need of a green thumb. Feeling overwhelmed, Charley immediately begins to try to turn things around. She had moved Micah against her will and sunk all of her savings into a long shot at a new life, but Charley quickly learns that this new life doesn’t come with the promise of simplicity. More than one curve ball is thrown her way, but Charley is determined to make her father proud and show Micah that perseverance is the key to reaching a goal.

 

Baszile creates rich characters whose relationships feel warm and authentic. It’s the combination of these character interactions and the vivid descriptions of the landscape that bring this book alive. Though the novel is more contemporary in content, I would recommend it to those who liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Randalee

 
 

Fashionable Friends

Fashionable Friends

posted by:
June 25, 2014 - 7:00am

VintageSusan Gloss's delightful debut Vintage, set in Madison, Wisconsin, weaves a multi-generational story of three women coping with unique personal problems, and finding love and friendship amidst antique clothes and accessories. Violet Turner’s dream to own a vintage boutique was realized with the opening of Hourglass Vintage. But now, she is in danger of losing the boutique and she simply cannot return to her small home town. Eighteen-year-old April is pregnant and has been dumped by her fiancé, bowing to pressure from his snobby parents.  Amithi discovered an unbearable betrayal by her husband of over 25 years and is shedding her clothes and jewels in an effort to remove any memories of a fraudulent life.

 

These women’s lives intersect at Hourglass Vintage, where they bond over a shared love of beautiful things and gradually develop deep and lasting friendships. April interns at the shop to retain her college scholarship. Her head for numbers make her an immediate asset to Violet’s woebegone accounting system. The two work with other clients, including Amithi, who is questioning her past and worried about her future, to raise funds to ensure Violet retains the store. As Violet realizes she can’t save her store alone, she opens her heart to new friends and to the possibility of real romance for the first time since her painful divorce.

 

Gloss opens each chapter with a catalog card perfunctorily detailing an item, its date of manufacture, its condition and previous owner. But the engaging narrative reveals the rich life of each item and also exposes another piece of each woman’s history and character. An online reading guide is available, so be sure to keep this multi-faceted story of transformation, healing and friendship in mind for your summer book club.

Maureen

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Mysteries of the Past and Present

Invisible CityNew reporter Rebekah Roberts is haunted by the mother who abandoned her to return to her secretive Hasidic family. After a childhood in sunny Florida with her adoring father and stepmother, Roberts moves to New York with dreams of becoming a renowned journalist. In Julia Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, the world of print media is fading fast. However, Roberts lands a job as a glorified tabloid reporter, sent to the scene of the seediest crimes where she hopes to eke out a living reporting facts that someone else will write. After receiving a call to report to a crime scene, she finds herself immersed in the murder mystery of a Hasidic woman who is from the same community as Roberts’ mother is.

 

When Roberts meets Jewish detective Saul Katz at the home of the victim, he recognizes her based on her uncanny resemblance to the mother she never knew and she is catapulted into a world shrouded in tradition and secrets. With each new fact she discovers, another question replaces it. Her past motivates her to dig further, which leads her into undeniable danger.

 

With each new turn of the mystery, Roberts finds herself learning more and more about her mother’s Hasidic world. Roberts watches the body taken away by Jewish “police” instead of the medical examiner. She learns that an autopsy will not be conducted, and the victim buried before evidence can be collected. Clearly a murder, the case might never be solved unless Roberts can expose the truth behind the crime and her own ties to the community.

Courtney

 
 

A Modern Twist on a Classic Story

The Secret Diary of Lizzy BennetTwo years ago, Bernie Su and Hank Green, the brother of young adult author John Green, started a YouTube Web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which became an overnight success. A modern day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries ran for close to a year and 100 episodes. Lizzie’s video blogs, or vlogs, began as a project for her master’s degree in mass communications, but takes on a life of its own as Lizzie’s sisters and friends get involved. Filled with pop culture references, and social media tie-ins on Twitter and Tumblr, the series has now moved into the book world with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.

 

Lizzie’s diary fills in holes from her vlogs, giving fans insight into her complicated relationship with William Darcy, her relationships with her sisters, Lydia and Jane and her longtime friendship with Charlotte Lu. Readers follow Lizzie as she meets Darcy at the fateful Gibson wedding, to her ill-fated relationship with George Wickham, and subsequent discovery about his true character and to her internships at Collins & Collins and Pemberley Digital. Though Lizzie is a more modern character—tweeting, vlogging and getting her master’s degree—the basis of the story is one that many know well from Pride and Prejudice.

 

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is sure to delight Austen fans looking for a modern take on a classic story. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, much like the vlogs, is a funny, romantic story filled with wonderful friends and family who help Lizzie overcome her prejudices and grow as a character.

Laura

 
 

Mediterranean Murder

Mediterranean Murder

posted by:
June 23, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Anne ZouroudiIn The Lady of Sorrows  by Anne Zouroudi, the reader is reacquainted with the enigmatic investigator Hermes Diaktoros in the fourth novel in the Seven Deadly Sins mystery series. Throughout the four novels, Hermes has remained very much a mystery. The reader knows he doesn't work for the police, but instead for a “higher authority.” He has an unstoppable need to see that justice is served, but not always in the legal sense of the word. He also has an uncanny timing that allows him to show up just when a murder is about to be committed. In the latest installment, Hermes arrives by boat to the island or Kalkos where he takes a particular interest in the painting of a Madonna that is rumored to have miraculous powers. The arrival of the Madonna also spawned a tradition of icon painters on the island, and it is rumored that when the elder painter dies, he can pass on the talent to his son by the touch of his hand. Hermes is not convinced that divine intervention is involved, especially when he begins to question the authenticity of the famous painting itself. Soon, the island’s resident icon painter is dead by an apparent poisoning, and Hermes realizes that sins run deep on the isle of Kalkos.

 

Zouroudi writes mysteries in the classic tradition, and readers who enjoy an interesting detective and an involved mystery will find much to love here. The author spends careful time on the suspects, delving into their hidden desires and motives. She pays careful attention to the unraveling of the mystery to pique the interest of any curious reader. She writes with a thoughtful style, and there is often a philosophical or ethical undercurrent to the mystery that becomes heartbreaking in the final solution. Readers may want to begin with The Messenger of Athens, the first in the series. Fans of Agatha Christie or Josephine Tey will be thrilled to find a contemporary author that captures their genius. Also available on e-book.

Doug

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Unseen Terror

Unseen Terror

posted by:
June 23, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Bird BoxSometimes, what you cannot see is the most terrifying of all. For five years, the world has been plagued by…something; something that, if seen, causes a person to lose their mind and inflict unspeakable violence upon themselves and those immediately around them. Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box brings horror to a new level. Devoid of blood, guts and things that go bump in the night, Malerman’s tale never reveals the monster. Is it even really a monster? Is it a physical being at all? Or is it the mind of man taken to the extreme? Perhaps the most terrifying of all is the lack of answers and how, at any moment, chaos might erupt.

 

Malorie and her two young children live in darkness in a boarded up home. They only go outside for water from the well and, when they do, they are always blindfolded. The children, known only as Boy and Girl, have learned since birth how to function without their sight. They wear their blindfolds indoors and practice honing their other senses. Malorie spends hours making noises throughout the house and quizzing Boy and Girl, because she knows that when the time comes, this alone will be their only chance for survival.

 

Malerman shifts between scenes set in the present to those in the not too distant past. We learn how Malorie came to be in the house with the children, and what happened to the group of survivors who welcomed her in. Bird Box is a terrifying story with mystery around every corner and behind every sound.

 

Malerman is the lead singer for the band The High Strung, best known for performing the theme song to the Showtime series Shameless.

Courtney

 
 

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve

Cover art for You Should Have KnownNote to self: When writing a groundbreaking book about relationships, make sure your own house is in order. This is what therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs learns in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s new book You Should Have Known. Grace has the seemingly perfect Manhattan life with her family, ensconced in the apartment from her childhood: her husband is a popular pediatric oncologist, she has a successful practice and their preteen son is at an exclusive private school. She has a newly published book, also titled You Should Have Known, about how many of the women she has counseled over the years possess the internal knowledge and discernment to make good decisions and head off bad choices before they engage in an unhealthy relationship. Just before the book’s much-anticipated release date, a seemingly unconnected murder of a parent at her son’s school leads to her marriage’s unraveling. With the discovery of her husband’s secrets and deceptions, Grace’s own life begins to very publicly implode. Escaping to the family’s remote lake house, she finds healing and rebuilding away from the public eye, and begins to see the true picture of the life she thought she knew.  

 

Although a murder mystery factors into the plot, this character-driven story is one of personal discovery and growth at a time when one thinks their life and fate have been decided. Grace’s husband Jonathan has a quiet creepiness that becomes louder as we learn more about his disingenuous nature, and readers will relate to Grace as she repairs the damage Jonathan had underhandedly wrought in her life. Quietly suspenseful and slower revealing than Gone Girl or The Silent Wife, but equally as compelling, readers will discover a satisfying story that ends with the characters looking towards an unknown, yet more hopeful, future.

Melanie

 
 

Lightning Strikes Twice

Lightning Strikes Twice

posted by:
June 19, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for The crimson CampaignOften, the second entry in a trilogy — film or book — is the low point. It's the halfway point between the excitement, plot and world-building of the first book and the resolution, justice-meting out, comeuppance-slinging grand finale. That is not the case in The Crimson Campaign, the second book in Brian McClellan’s grand flintlock fantasy series, The Powder Mage.

 

The action in this sequel starts several months after the end of the first book, Promise of Blood. Tamas, McClellan’s analog for Napoleon, is facing a massive invasion on his country’s southern flank, but he has devised a counterattack that might turn the tide of the war. Tomas’s son, Taniel Two-shot, is just coming out of a coma after shooting the returning god Kresimir through the eye. Adamat, one of the few magical protagonists, is still looking for Lord Vetas, the man who holds Adamat’s wife and son hostage after unsuccessfully blackmailing him.

 

These three narratives soon explode and set off in separate directions, although with definite consequences for the others. Tamas and part of his army are cut off and presumed dead deep in enemy territory. Without supplies or reinforcements and constantly hounded by enemy forces, they must make a long, difficult march home. Taniel reacts to his father’s apparent death by traveling to the front to stop the enemy invasion and to face a General Staff that has already given up on the war. He will also face an angry, out-of-control god that he failed to kill. At home in the capital, Adamat finds himself outgunned, outmanned and facing powerful forces; meanwhile, he tries to unravel a conspiracy that may leave the capital city defenseless to political intrigue and foreign invasion.

 

McClellan turns the heat up in this second outing, raising the stakes even higher for the book’s protagonists. He has broadened his world by geographically separating the point of view characters. The pacing is frenetic, and the setting is derivative of the crisis period that faced France post-revolution. Yet, while there are many historic similarities, McClellan has gone in new exciting directions by creating a unique world much like a musician using familiar chords in a different progression. While some plot points are resolved and a tantalizing conclusion is in sight, McClellan has pulled off a bit of magic, making the reader hope the last book of this trilogy won’t be the last we see of this world or his characters.

Brian

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Seven Stories That Will Make You Cry in Public

Cover art for The Book ThiefCover art for AtonementCover art for Bridge to TerabithiaIt has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.

 

•    Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.

 

•    Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.

 

•    Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.

 

•    Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.

 

•    Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.

 

•    Set in a postapocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.

 

•    Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.

Beth