Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope, born in England but raised by her aunt in New England, is a mathematician, a typist, and is training to be a spy. After the adventures in her first mystery, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, reviewed here, Maggie is training with MI-5. The physical training is very difficult for the bookish Maggie, but her loyalty and intelligence are valued, so she is reassigned. She is sent to Windsor Castle, to be a math tutor for 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth, and also to help keep her safe. The castle is huge and chilly, and Maggie is expected to dress up for dinner with the staff. Her sweetheart is missing in action, but her handsome contact with Churchill’s Irregulars is a good friend, until he too is reassigned. A sudden death on the castle grounds, and a possible plot to kidnap or harm the princess keep Maggie very busy, along with helping stage a play for Christmas. The royal princesses are charming, as is the peek inside a castle in wartime. Maggie’s distant father, a cryptographer, continues to be an enigma. A friend’s wartime wedding, a suspicious death in London, and a possible romance enliven this mystery. Two more books about Maggie Hope are planned.


The Third Gate

The Third Gate, by Lincoln Child

Ghost Busters meets the Mummy.  Jeremy Logan is an “enigmalogist”, a fancy name for a ghost hunter. He is very good and well known for what he does.  He meets up with Porter Stone, a world famous archaeologist, who is deep into his latest “dig”.  The dig is the tomb of the first pharaoh, King Narmer, who united the upper and lower kingdoms of ancient Egypt. The dig is not going well. The tomb is located under 30 feet of mud choked swamp called the “Sud”, an area of the Nile that spreads out hundreds of miles in south Sudan.  This is a very high tech dig involving huge flat boats and drilling platforms, a logistical nightmare.  And also a real nightmare as an ancient curse set upon the tomb, that really bad things will happen to anyone that disturbs it, appears to be coming true.  This is why Jeremy is called in to try and defuse the curse. 

The body count rises as Jeremy teams with Jennifer Rush a woman who has had an NDE or “near death experience” that lasted 15 minutes, and has unusual psychic abilities.  She has been communicating with a malevolent spirit that has been plaguing the dig site.  Will the curse doom them all?  Will Porter Stone become the most famous archaeologist ever, by finding the mother of all Egyptian tombs?

I really enjoyed this thriller. I like books that entertain and that can educate you at the same time.  This author has written a lot of thrillers such as Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze, Death Match, Utopia  He is also part of the team of Douglass Preston and Lincoln Child who wrote the Pendergast series. (Relic, Reliquary) etc.  You can visit them at their website.



Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

While I read this novel because it is a space opera and was a finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards for science fiction and fantasy, I think readers of thrillers and noir mysteries would also enjoy it. James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. Jim Holden is the executive officer of an ice hauler which responds to the distress beacon of a ship. Holden takes a small crew on a shuttle to board the Scopuli, which is empty of survivors. On Ceres, a dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter, Detective Joe Miller is divorced, unhappy, and drinks a lot. His earthborn partner gets harassed frequently for being different. Miller is assigned to look for Juliette Mao, the missing daughter of an Earth VIP, and to make sure she goes back to Earth, willing or not. Unlikely sources give him a tip that she was on board the Scopuli. Miller tracks down Holden and crew as interplanetary war is on the horizon, partly because of some rash broadcasts Holden made. Now they must team up to stop a horrifying biological experiment brewing on Eros, a small asteroid. There is a lot of mystery, descriptions of stations and ships that feel real, and a very fast pace. There’s even a little romance, and an almost hopeless quest. Readers will be happy to learn that a sequel, Caliban’s War, has been published, with another book in the works. Other space opera authors to try are C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Jack McDevitt. If your prefer noir mystery on the Moon, try The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.


The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

This is the eighth mystery novel in the award-winning series featuring Chief Inspector Armande Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir of Québec’s Sûreté. Both wounded two mysteries ago, their formerly close relationship is now more complicated, especially as Beauvoir is secretly dating Gamache’s daughter Maggie. In The Beautiful Mystery, which refers to music, they travel to an isolated monastery where the prior has been killed. When I read that Gamache would be travelling to a monastery, I pictured him on a peaceful retreat. Having read Louise Penny’s other mysteries, I should have known better. The prior, Frere Mathieu, was also the choirmaster, and the monastery had recently released a recording of the monastery’s Gregorian chants that became a surprise hit. While isolated, the two dozen monks have been recruited by the abbot, Dom Philippe, from other monasteries and seminaries for their singing voices as well as for practical skills needed at the self-sufficient monastery. Now, all the monks are suspects in the prior’s murder. Gamache and even the cynical Beauvoir are stunned by the beauty of the monks’ singing. But then Gamache’s adversarial boss shows up, and Beauvoir finds out that he’s not fully recovered from the trauma of his old injuries. The setting is beautifully drawn, and the mystery is rather clever, but the draw of this series has always been the characters’ relationships and struggles. The first book in the series is Still Life, which is being filmed for Canadian television. For more about the series and gorgeous photos of Quebec, visit the author’s website.


The Round House

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

13-year-old Joe lives on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988 with his parents, Geraldine and Bazil, surrounded by relatives. Joe, when not in school, is usually riding his bike with Cappy, Angus, and Zack, visiting their various relatives for a meal or drink. They get up to plenty of mischief, but life turns suddenly serious after Joe’s mother is brutally attacked. She doesn’t know exactly where it happened; on tribal, federal, or state land. Bazil is a tribal judge and treats Joe like an adult as they look through his case files for possible suspects. There is plenty of humor, adolescent lust, and adventure, almost enough to balance Geraldine’s depression as she slowly recovers.

I found myself thinking about The Round House when I wasn’t reading it, and found it riveting when I was. I was surprised by the ending, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. A memorable novel, this is a finalist for the National Book Award.


Sons of Mississippi

Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson

Fifty years ago, on October 1, 1962, James Meredith attempted to enroll at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. What happened next has been called “The Last Battle of the Civil War” as the college town erupted in rioting that left 2 people dead, and 20  injured.  A force of  more than 3000 soldiers and guardsmen and 400 deputy United States Marshalls fought for 15 hours to restore order.

Paul Hendrickson chronicles the lives of six southern sheriffs who were in Oxford before the riot and had their picture taken. (The picture is on the cover of this book.) These sheriffs  (each from a different county)  all knew each other and were part of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was a state sponsored and tax supported agency whose purpose was to keep an eye out for blacks who would get out of line. They represented the tip of the segregation spear, the enforcers of the Jim Crow regime. All were complicit. Some were more enthusiastic than others. Most or all believed that the black man was inferior and that “civil rights” was being imposed by outside agitators. Hendrickson interviews friends and family and some of the Officers who were still alive. He tells the strange story of James Meredith himself who was soldier like in his duty to destroy segregation but whose subsequent life was itinerant and delusional.  Finally he contacts the descendants of the sheriffs and learns how life in the south changed after civil right and somehow stayed the same.

I enjoyed one of Hendrickson’s previous excellent books:  Hemingway’s Boat : Everything he loved in life and lost 1934-1961.   He makes his narrative come alive.  You smell the rich earth of the Mississippi delta, feel the sweltering heat, and mostly wonder how such a world could exist where men could treat their fellow men like animals.


Fall Book News: Recent Award Winners and Finalists

So many book awards and finalists have been announced this fall that I’m grouping them all together. Readers will find literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, and books for children and young adults.

I know I’ll be looking at these lists for ideas for future book discussions.



ANTHONY AWARDS, 2012 [Mystery]


Penny, Louise. A Trick of the Light. 


Henry, Sara J. Learning to Swim. 


Hyzy, Julie. Buffalo West Wing 


Cameron, Dana. “Disarming” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June, 2011)


HUGO AWARDS, 2012 [Science Fiction and Fantasy]


Among Others, Jo Walton  


‘‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’’, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11) 


‘‘Six Months, Three Days’’, Charlie Jane Anders ( 6/8/11) 


‘‘The Paper Menagerie’’, Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11) 




The winner will be announced October 16, 2012. 

Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists  

Deborah Levy, Swimming Home 

Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies  

Alison Moore, The Lighthouse  

Will Self, Umbrella  

Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis 



Winners to be Announced November 14, 2012 


Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her  

Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King  

Louise Erdrich, The Round House  

Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk  

Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds  


Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956  

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity 

Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4  

Domingo Martinez, The Boy Kings of Texas  

Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East


David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

Cynthia Huntington, Heavenly Bodies 

Tim Seibles, Fast Animal  

Alan Shapiro, Night of the Republic  

Susan Wheeler, Meme  


William Alexander, Goblin Secrets  

Carrie Arcos, Out of Reach  

Patricia McCormick, Never Fall Down  

Eliot Schrefer, Endangered  

Steve Sheinkin, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon 


Mo Yan

Mo Yan is the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. We will add several of his books (in translation) to our collection. Several titles by Mo Yan are available now for interlibrary loan.



This Machine Kills Secrets

This Machine Kills Secrets by Andy Greenberg

“This machine kills secrets” is a riff on Woody Guthrie’s slogan “this machine kills fascists.” Greenberg lays out how cryptography and anonymity are the machine that can help people leak secrets that those in power don’t want the public to know. The best example of this idea is Wikileaks where thousands of classified documents were posted for public consumption. Greenberg goes back to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers where the leaking technology was nothing more than a photocopier and brings the reader to today where Tor, PGP, SSL, and other technologies make it possible for whistleblowers to anonymously spread information. Or at least they would in theory. In practice, Wikileaks and similar sites are plagued by problems like internal strife, legal issues, and endangerment of innocents mentioned in leaked documents.

Greenberg does a wonderful job of capturing the personalities of those involved in the struggle to free information. He doesn’t shy away from showing that some of the “heroes” of the movement are deeply flawed. He’s equally honest about the subject of leaking. While leaked documents can make for a more informed public, they can also cause great danger to the people who leak and share them as well as those mentioned in the documents themselves. Security measures to prevent or catch whistleblowers are more likely to catch innocent people and are a danger as well.

There are many elements to leaks–why people do it, how they do it, where the leaks go, what happens with the information, how you protect the people who want to leak information, and how to keep that information from doing more harm. Greenberg covers all of them and his conclusion is that what we currently have in the form of Wikileaks and its offshoots and copycats isn’t the final form and somewhere, someone is working on the next big thing. After reading This Machine Kills Secrets, I have a better understanding of why people are working on it. I wish some of the technical descriptions had been more detailed (I’m a fan of Neal Stephenson’s infodumps and think Cryptonomicon would be a great readalike). Despite the subject, this is a very readable book since Greenberg focuses on individuals and uses them to talk about the technologies they use. You don’t need a lot of knowledge about computers to get into This Machine Kills Secrets but it may leave you wanting to learn more.


The Murder Room

The Murder Room by P.D. James

I was looking for a good audiobook to enjoy in the car, and picked a P.D. James mystery because the morning book discussion group is discussing James’ Death Comes to Pemberley at 10am, October 16. Venerable British mystery author James is now 92, and still writing. The series featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh is lengthy and I’ve just read a few of the books. This title was published in 2003, and was made into a BBC miniseries, which our library owns on DVD.  The setting is the privately owned Dupayne Museum, devoted to the inter-war years, 1919-1938. There is an art gallery, a library, and the murder room, which contains exhibits with articles and artifacts from some of the most notorious British murders. 

Adam Dalgliesh had recently visited the museum, at a friend’s request. The Dupayne Museum is at a turning point; its lease is expiring and a new lease needs the signatures of all of its trustees. The trustees are the children of the museum’s founder. Caroline is a school principal who keeps a flat in the museum’s building; Marcus has just retired from the civil service, and Neville is a psychiatrist who favors closing the museum.

The first murder is not a surprise, but the similarity to a case from the murder room has the staff and volunteers naturally concerned, especially Tally, who lives in an adjacent cottage on the edge of lonely Hampstead Heath. Dealing with the Dupaynes reminds Detective Inspector Kate Miskin of her working class background, while her colleague Piers Tarrant is being transferred soon. Mostly the mystery centers around the museum and Dalgliesh, who is the sort of man strangers confide in. Dalgliesh is falling in love with Emma, but the demands of New Scotland Yard may have cancelled too many dates for their relationship to survive. The mystery kept my interest, but the memorable characters had me worried for their safety. Charles Keating narrates well.


The Islanders

The Islanders by Christopher Priest

 In this Sci Fi imagining of Earth written in a travel guide format, the planet is mostly open water filled with thousands of Islands of all sizes, shapes and weather patterns.  The northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere are bisected by this world sized ocean.  The hemispheres are where endless wars are waged for one reason or another.  The islands are a haven from all the unrest in the two hemispheres.  Each featured island has its own stories and characters.  As you read through the book you see that some of the stories and characters are related but you would have to read through it twice to really see the connections.  The stories are uneven with   one about discovering a lethal variety of insect on one island, which is quite engaging, to another about a man working in a theater, which is rather lame and boring.

This book is intriguing at first and then as you get into it, becomes confusing unless you read it all in one sitting and have the memory of an elephant.  It kind of works as a group of short stories but the gazetteer function is a distraction.  I read it because it was favorably compared to Cloud Atlas  by David Mitchell.   I would stick with Mitchell.