Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz), THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

My first Amanda Quick mystery. In the 1930s, Anna Harris flees the home of her murdered employer, Helen Spencer, who bequeathed her cash and a notebook with mysterious notations. She drives across the country to restart her life as Irene Glasson in Burning Cove, California, just outside LA, but there are ruthless villains who will do anything to obtain that notebook. Very good world-building, with plenty of flapper glamour, champagne, beautiful hotels, exotic cars, and movie stars with Pasts they want to keep hidden. Light, quick, often wry prose that feels just right, and with a nice spritz of romance.

Sunday, June 21, 2020


A thoroughly enjoyable cozy set in the south of France. Think Agatha Christie x A Year in Provence, with some Foyle's War tossed in. The MC is a personable Sergeant who knows everyone in St. Denis and, despite some painful backstory, is a fundamentally trusting, generous man. The mystery has a dark edge, more intricate than most cozies, and thoroughly believable. And the food in this book! They're always dining on French baguettes and pate and flavorful cheese and truffles. I had to snack as I read. Will definitely read more in this series.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


A thoroughly enjoyable collection of essays. Perhaps if I weren't 54 I wouldn't find them so darn funny and spot on. Each essay is short, perfect for a wry, witty nibble, or reading while in line at the grocery store. But be prepared to laugh out loud and have people try to see what you're reading. I will look for more of Ephron's books. I wish she were still with us. (She passed in 2012.)


I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet, rich book about characters in Greenstone, a small dying mining town not far from Lake Superior, told in first person POV by Virgil Wander, a man approaching middle age. It reminds me a bit in tone of A MAN CALLED OVE, though Virgil is more cheerful and almost childlike at times in his openness to the world and to others. One day Virgil drives his car off the road, to find himself rescued but with a concussion that has changed him. He runs the old movie theater, the Empress (made me think of that movie, *Cinema Paradiso*), where he still plays films from reels. The characters are carefully drawn, unusual and interesting--Rune, the man who flies kites and is in search of the truth about his missing son Alec; Nadine, the beauty for whom Virgil has carried a torch for years, based on a flawed memory; the teenage boys Bjorn and Galen who do the weird things we expect of teenage boys. One strong point of this book was, for me, the nuanced and delicate language, the perfect turns of phrase. Sentences are never as powerful when taken out of context, but here are a few of the many I underlined: "For more than twenty years I'd felt at home, in my home. Now I stood weirdly slack in the middle of my kitchen ... The evidence of my life lay before me, and I was unconvinced." "I moved here largely because of the inland sea ... Who could resist that wide throw of horizon, the columns of morning steam?" "He had a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders." "A scatter of sparrows surfed along in the torrent, dipped and spun, and were gone." I was sorry to have this book end.

Monday, June 15, 2020


A compelling read about Churchill from his first days as Prime Minister near the beginning of WWII until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill comes off as indomitable, mythic, almost holding London and England together by force of his will, though he himself said that he merely helped Londoners *find* the courage they already had. He could feel frustration and despair--but in action he was not able to be swayed. The book includes various subplots--his daughter Mary's foolish behavior and near-engagement, the failure of his son's marriage to Pamela (later Harriman), Hess's bizarre solo flight in 1941 to try to convince Churchill to concede defeat, and various American personages' trips to England, and Goebbels' vicious wielding of the media to discourage England and plant outright lies.
To some extent I felt Larson portrayed Churchill as a "shining example" vis-a-vis the current political leadership, and I found myself aware of this as I read, beginning with the inside cover copy which concludes: "[This book] takes readers out of today's political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when--in the face of unrelenting horror--Churchill's eloquence, courage and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together."
Much has been written about Churchill, in non-fiction and fiction, and I appreciated the careful research into personal letters and diaries. Larson "found" his own Churchill, different from other accounts I've read. This book is well-researched history, told with the suspense and accessible, elegant language of a good novel. Yes, it's 500 pages, but it was  a page-turner for me, in the same way his THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY was.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Madeleine Albright, MADAM SECRETARY

An astonishing, engaging story, told in first person from her birth in Czechoslovakia  through resignation of her post as Secretary of State under Clinton. I was lucky enough to see Albright when she came to Phoenix as part of the Speakers' Series, and I found her insightful, knowledgeable, and adept with the one-liner. ("I was required to wear a bulletproof raincoat ... so big, the material stuck out above my shoulders. I eyed the photographers warily, fearing the caption, 'Madeleine Albright, the Hunchbacked Dame.'") This book was written in collaboration with Bill Woodward (speechwriter), but I heard her voice loud and clear in these pages. I also learned a lot about the policies and our relationships with countries all over the globe and was in awe of her ability to understand the delicate political nuances, how aspects such as the need to "save face" with people back home or backstories going back fifty years shape negotiations. She's also acutely attuned to language. At times there would be a phrase spoken or reported in the newspapers, and I'd think nothing of it, whereas she or one of her advisors would say, "Aha! That changes things." I'd have to read the next paragraph or two to understand why. I appreciate her efforts at building coalitions, including among women at the U.N. and elsewhere. I have to confess I got a bit bogged down by the long section about the middle east, but the situation is so complicated, that was probably inevitable. I love that she includes cartoons that poke fun at herself and photographs that suggest her ability to connect with a wide variety of people. Her husband, who left her for a younger woman doesn't come off so well; and she expresses her disappointment with Clinton over the Lewinsky affair ("I was angry with the President for risking so much for less than nothing"). But she took the advice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "When you write your memoirs, remember: do not be angry." It's a long book, but definitely worth the 500 pages. This was a bookclub pick, and though it is my first book by Albright, I will read more. This book was published in 2003, and I will be interested to see how/if two additional decades alter her views or focus.