Thursday, January 31, 2013

Middle Sister's January 2013 Books

Well, it's been a slow month for three reasons--one sick dog, one new puppy, one attempt to read Les Miserables (oh, the peer pressure of the book group!). Sick dog is getting better, puppy is slowly getting better, and I may finish Les Mis this decade. But what I did finish this month:

Make Believe by Ed Ifkovic I enjoy Edna Ferber's books and the movies made from them, so I couldn't resist reading this galley. A witty, acerbic woman of a certain age--that's an amateur detective I can enjoy. This is the third in the series, I believe, and I liked it enough that I'll seek out the first two. In this entry, Edna rushes to Hollywood on the eve of the premiere of the latest version of her Show Boat not to attend that event, but because an old friend of hers has been blackballed by the fallout from the House Un-American Affairs Committee. Shades of today (If you disagree with us, you're unpatriotic! If you disagree with us, you're stupid. It's a little dispiriting we haven't gotten over that kind of behavior yet.). There are real Hollywood people as characters (Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra are important supporting characters, and I must say, Frank does not come off well), and real movies and shows (The Goldbergs), fairly skillfully woven in with fictional characters (Ethan and Tony/Tiny probably resemble a lot of low-life hangers-on of that era). Honestly, Edna was the only character I liked. But I liked her, and some of the bon mots that come out of her fictional mouth read like things the real Edna might have said. (NetGalley, read on my Kindle)

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal An Englishwoman raised in America returns to England to sell her grandmother's house, only to get swept up in the turmoil of WWII and the British effort. Maggie becomes a secretary in the Home Office, and soon finds herself taking dictation from Winston Churchill himself and being privy to more than she expected. Meanwhile, the facts of her life that she always believed to be true are turned upside down, Maggie discovers that not everyone is who they say they are, and amidst bombs and air raids, Maggie races against time to save a London landmark from the IRA. I liked the characters and the setting very much, although at times the book read like a movie script, and the coincidences piled atop each other got a little much. The next book in the series is out, and I will follow Maggie's wartime adventures. (Kindle edition)

Spellbinding by Maya Gold This YA novel (aimed at 12-year-olds) tries to capitalize on the current pop culture obsession with witches, zombies, vampires, and other other-worldly creatures, but tries to do so incorporating some real American history. Abigail discovers, in her sixteenth year, that she is descended from a witch executed during the Salem witch trials, and that she has inherited the witch's powers. Not much character development, and that which does occur is pretty standard: Abby decides to use her new-found powers to make her childhood crush fall in love with her; Abby's reactions to her widower father's new romance are very immature, but then Abby is, in many ways, herself immature. But the underlying use of her powers to become the bully that she used to be the victim of is a good moral lesson that would probably be lost on the average 12-year-old reader, who'd be swooning over Rem's chiseled bare chest and startling eyes (yes, even YA novels have young men's bare chests described to make young bosoms heave). This is the second descended-from-a-Salem-witch book I've read in the past year (the other was an adult novel), and I'm disappointed again how the reality of the political and economic and social underpinnings of the witch hunt are swept aside as the 'powers' of the accused witches are assumed to be true. Ah well, I have to remind myself it's fiction. (NetGalley, read on my Kindle)

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