I’ve been a very bad blogger. I haven’t posted alllllllll summer.
So, I’m ending my dry period with a book review. Below is my review of The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, book four in the Maggie Hope series by my friend Susan Elia MacNeal. If you are into historical fiction, check this series out. Susan is an amazing scholar of the history of spy craft and the greatest generation, and has a way with storytelling that gives you a fresh, though sometimes dark, perspective on history.
Spies are not all cocktails and intrigue. Soldiers are not all righteous defense and warranted aggression. Susan Elia MacNeal’s newest World War II novel is not just another World War II novel. I took my time processing this book. It’s a quick page-turner, yes, but it hit me in the gut, with questions and conjectures about what I thought I had always known. Who wore the white hats? Who wore the black? The very notion that Britain might have been generating biological weapons or that Churchill knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened but didn’t warn the US . . . that the ends might have justified any means, and that the good of the many may have outweighed the good of the few, left me wanting to pick up my history textbooks again, and question everything I knew about that time period. In The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, the fourth in the Maggie Hope series, our damaged heroine fights a battle that is more with herself than it ever is with an enemy. Civilians die horrible deaths, not just from bullets and bombs, but from wasting illness and questionable intentions. MacNeal paints a portrait of us, of human nature, and holds it right up in our faces: A portrait of how marginalization of women in the workplace and undervaluing the contribution of even a lowly secretary can have dire consequences. How untreated and misunderstood mental illness can cause someone to turn into a monster. How war bends the mind of those who fight, on either side of a conflict, into something that only barely resembles itself. And, finally, a portrait of just how difficult it is to put aside the dark cloak of depression to do one’s duty, not even to one’s country, but to the future.
Click the photo to link to the book on Amazon.
Links to the other three books in the series:
Some of you have probably seen that poem that’s going around the internet, filled with the many idiosyncrasies of the English language. If not, here’s the link: 90% of People Can’t Pronounce This Whole Poem/You Have To Try It.
I was proctoring standardized end of grade tests for my daughter’s school, and as I strolled around the various classrooms watching kids fill in tiny bubbles with #2 pencils, I snapped a picture of something similar. (At left) I giggled aloud when I read it, causing some of the kids to look at me like I’d lost my mind – which is quite likely: proctoring EOGs is the very definition of boring. How could it be otherwise, since proctors aren’t allowed to read, text, write, phone, or daydream during the EOGs, only wander around making sure that kids are filling in bubbles and the teacher is administering the tests properly? . . . but that’s a blog post for another time . . .
Anyway, if any of you are speakers of English as a second language, or if any of you are teaching kids/adults how to read English, feel free to chime in here about what kind of bat-sh&t crazy pronunciation stuff drives you even bat-sh&t crazier. ;-)
Do you have big brothers? I do. I have three. For the most part this was cool growing up. I was spoiled, lavished with attention, protected, nurtured, loved.
But story time was another deal. If mom or dad was too tired to read to me or tell me a story at night, it fell to one of the three of them. Brother number three couldn’t be bothered (He kind of thought I was a pest.) Brother number two was rarely home. (He was busy running my parents’ cars out of gasoline galivanting all over the county.) So the task frequently fell to responsible Brother number one (An overachiever, but that’s first-borns for you.)
However, his favorite bedtime story sucked. Badly. It was the same every time. “Once upon a time. The End.” That was it. He’d tuck me in. Say, “Once upon a time, the end.” Turn off the light, and that was that.
“Where’s the middle?” I’d always ask in protest. There was never a middle. This was heresy: all stories needed middles.
“Come up with your own middle, Becky,” he’d say.
And that was why and how I started writing stories in my head at night to get myself to sleep. Now I’m writing them down.
I’ll show HIM, Mr. Big-Brother-Who-Couldn’t-Be-Bothered-To-Come-Up-With-A-Middle-To-The-Story.
I hesitate to admit this, because it makes me sound old, but here goes – my pre-digital life story:
When I was little and learned to read all by myself, I fell in love with it and wanted to read as late into the evening as I possibly could after my parents put me to bed. This became easy in the spring and summer, when daylight savings time made the evening hours longer, even though I had to go to bed, no exceptions, by 8:00 p.m. I had to be in bed, but nobody had said anything about being asleep at that time, so I read by the light coming through my west-facing window. I read until I squinted. (Perhaps I can blame my myopia on this practice?) I only had an overhead light in my bedroom, which mom or dad would turn off after they tucked me in, no bedside light. It never even occurred to me to have a bedside light to read by. I remember reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories this way, as well as Nancy Drew mystery after Nancy Drew mystery, and Choose Your Own Adventure stories. I got to the point where I would sneak a flashlight under the covers when it got dark, just to keep reading. But that Christmas I got one of the best Christmas presents of my entire life – a bedside lamp.
And I’ve been a late night reader ever since.
And now my older daughter is the same. I can’t keep the smile and pride out of my voice when I holler at her to turn off her light and go to sleep! ;-)
How about all of you? What are your reading habits? Is it mandatory that you read at bedtime?
I loved to read so much and from a very early age. I literally read everything I could get my hands on, beyond books: cereal boxes, my parents’ mail, street signs, store signs – actually everything with words on it that I saw out the car window, everywhere we went . . . usually out loud. In fact, I very likely drove my parents crazy doing this. (Though they never complained.) When we would go on trips – in the era before smartphones – I would read aloud everything I read as we drove. Everything. And I’d get a little frustrated when we drove by something too fast for me to read.
So kids, if you want to practice your speed reading, I recommend you try this. Your parents will LOVE you for it.
Yield. First Street. Slow. Bridge Freezes Before Road. Next Rest Stop 25 Miles. No Trucks Left Lane. Chevron. Toll Road Ahead . . . . . . .
I met some cool folks, agents and writers alike, at the Las Vegas Writers’ Conference. I’m still processing the stuff I learned from them. While I’m processing and working on my WIPs (works-in-progress) I agreed to read and review a book for one of those agents and her client. It’s not the kind of book I would have ordinarily picked up, but I’m glad I did. First, a preface: One of my brothers, who used to never read books if he could avoid them, has become a pretty big reader in recent years. However, he only reads books written by men. He told me he would NEVER read a book by a woman. To this I responded, “Thanks, man. And if I get published? Would you read MY book(s)?” And he hasn’t answered me yet!
Anyway, while reading Jim Satterfield’s Saving Laura, I figured it was the kind of book, a real “man’s man” kind of book, that my brother would like. My brother, the wildlife officer and avid outdoorsman, and the author share a similar background. (Author Jim Satterfield has a Ph.D. in fishery and wildlife biology.) Saving Laura is about as avid an outdoorsy book as I’ve ever read in my life. Anyway, I wrote the review; I enjoyed the book. I hope Satterfield finds success with this and future books. Check it out if you’re interested. Here’s a link to my review on Goodreads, or if you prefer, on Amazon.
Oh, and, if you run into my brother, smack him upside the back of the head for me. He needs to start reading women, especially his sister . . . but that’s for another blog post, isn’t it?