Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. The friendship blossoming between the young English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 2021

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

The Moon-Spinners

By Mary Stewart

**Spoilers**

I had just seen the Disney movie The Moon-Spinners for about the millionth time motivated by reading Hayley Mills’s autobiography. I had forgotten how different it was from the book. In both, Nicola Ferris our 22-year-old young heroine runs across Mark in Crete while on vacation with her forty-something cousin Frances. In the book, Mark is already wounded and in hiding with his Greek friend, Lambis. In the movie, they are both guests at a small family hotel. They meet at a party the first night but the next morning, he is mysteriously missing. Of course, the book has Colin, Mark’s kidnapped little brother instead of the friendly Greek youth of the movie. That was a plus. Mark’s and Nicky’s anguish and our suspense over whether the bad guys had killed Colin or taken him hostage added a lot to the novel. The scenes where Nicky and Colin find a buried body that appears to be Mark’s and the discovery of the truth later make gripping reading.

There is one main thing, though, that I feel the movie improves upon and that is Mark’s motivation for his conflict and danger from Stavros and company. In the book, Mark and Colin are threatened because they witnessed a murder among thieves. But in the movie, Mark was accused of stealing some jewels in London and the only way he can clear his name is to follow Stavros to Crete, recover them, and prove Stavros was the real thief. This brings in the iconic Pola Negri to play the part of Madame Habib to whom Stavros is bringing the jewels to sell. Those scenes, and also the scenes at the diplomat’s house that they take refuge in only to find out he is one of the gang are really suspenseful and add a lot more adventure to the plot of the movie.

I did enjoy the Moonspinners very much despite the sub-par narration of Daphne Kouma. Her enunciation was not the clearest and she often whispered to convey tension or suspense in the story which also made her difficult to understand sometimes. The romance between Mark and Nicky was very slight and rather subtle, but it was sweeter than in the movie. The characters of Colin and Lambis added some humor and depth. Nicky’s successful Cat and Mouse with Sophia, Tony, and Stratos until she makes a fatal mistake keeps you on the edge. And of course, Mary Stewart’s description of the land and the character of the people and their ways were very evocative as always. The book is lighter than some of her books in which the lead characters are a little more mature, but none beat this one for charm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 5, 2021

The Host

by Stephenie Meyer

“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all worlds – the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions.. the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Perhaps without the lows, the highs could not be reached.”

“Eight full lives,” I whispered against his jaw, my voice breaking. “Eight full lives and I never found anyone I would stay on a planet for, anyone I would follow when they left. I never found a partner. Why now? Why you? You’re not of my species. How can you be my partner?”
“It’s a strange universe,” he murmured.

Earthlings have almost been taken over by an alien species who inhabit their minds and bodies, effectively killing them. But when they got to Melanie, one of the last on earth, they picked the wrong girl. The “soul” who is being put in her body is Wanderer. So-called because she has lived on more planets than anyone else of her species. She comes to earth late in their invasion, so, because they are kind, non-violent, and incapable of deceit, Earth, once on the verge of self-destruction, is now a pretty great place to live. But Melanie refuses to die. Eventually, Melanie and Wanda become allies and sisters of the heart in one body. Melanie is determined to find her little brother and her love, Jared, who are in hiding along with the rest of the last remaining humans in a secret commune. But Wanda is being followed by one of the “Seekers” who protect the “souls” and is determined to find and destroy the rebels who pose a danger to their species.

Unlike many of the reviewers, I reveled in the descriptions and the details that so many felt slowed the “action” down. I loved “Wanda” and the development of the relationships in the commune. This book was just what I needed after finishing the Harry Potter series in a 2-week marathon and in the throws of Harry Potter withdrawal syndrome. I sympathize with some of the criticisms. The love story part was problematic and a bit boring. The relationship with Jamie was a bit overdone. And the ending was…well it just would not end. It’s like she couldn’t decide how to end it so she just threw all her imagined endings into the pot. Finally, when she got to it, it turned out pretty satisfying. I was surprised!

**Spoiler**

The descriptions of “Pet” really turned me off. I wish she had chosen a different type of person for the gentle yet heroic Wanderer to occupy. Let’s not forget, Wanderer also earned iconic status as “Rides the Beast” I’m not sure Pet is worthy of her after Melanie. **End Spoiler**


Stephenie Meyer planned (and still plans, I guess) this to be a trilogy, presumably concentrating on whether the remaining humans would be successful in surviving and triumphing against the invasion. Although we root for the human rebels against the takeover of the remaining humans, I’m not sure I’m anxious to read more. This ended in a very hopeful way, and sometimes hope is better than reality. “Be careful what you wish for…”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

November 21, 2016

The Huntress

By Kate Quinn

We don’t hunt the helpless, luchik. We hunt the killers. Is like villagers going after a wolf gone mad. Only when the wolf is dead, villagers go home and we find the next mad wolf.

Ian Graham, a former British war correspondent teams up with Nina Markova a former Night Witch, one of the legendary female Russian night bombers. Their mission is to find and bring to justice a vicious Nazi predator, The Huntress, with whom Nina has a personal score to settle. They track her to Boston, where Jordan, a young budding photographer’s widowed father has just brought home Anna, his serene and reserved new fiancée, and her traumatized daughter, Ruth. From Germany.

I hovered between 3 stars and 4 stars for this one. I re-read the ending pages again, and 4 stars it is. Part of the problem, if 3 stars is a problem, was that I didn’t really take to Nina or her lengthy story while she was in Russia. It wasn’t until she came to the United States that I really warmed to her.

“Is a Russian thing. Sit around, drink too much, talk about death.” She pushed her empty plate away. “It makes us cheerful.”

I guess it was because I just prefer light over dark. I was much more intrigued by Jordan’s domestic adventures with Anna and Ruth on the home front.

I hope there is a sequel someday. I would like to see all of the characters again and read more of Ruth, all grown up. I would also like to see more Nazis caught.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 14, 2019

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

The Chemist

By Stephanie Meyer

“Kevin rolled his eyes. “I bet you always have a plan, don’t you, shorty? ”She regarded him with flat eyes. “I can’t rely on muscle, so I rely on brains. It appears you have the opposite problem.”

Stephanie Meyer can write a good page-turner. Say what you will, all of the books I have read by her have really engaged me, and The Chemist was no exception. It is a light thriller with a fair share of romantic mush. Although it has lots of violence and a high mortality rate, it is not very dark, terrifying, or heart pounding. Somehow you know everything is going to turn out OK. Our heroine is an emotionally damaged female John Wick, Jason Bourne, or Equalizer type, except she has the special superpower of being a brilliant chemist and former torturer who uses her expertise to protect herself and wreak havoc on bad guys. At least she hopes they are bad guys. She is on the run from a certain U.S government agency that is trying to kill her because she knows too much. She agrees to do one last job for them in exchange for them ceasing and desisting. A common trope, yes.

The book kind of bogs down at the beginning with the setup and her preparations to capture her prey. It was interesting and admirable but went on a bit too long. I almost quit. I hung on and it picked up considerably after her target proves himself to be a sweet, innocent victim with an extremely dangerous twin brother (Kevin), who turns out to be also targeted by another branch of the government. Alex, our heroine, reluctantly teams up with him to extricate themselves from their mutual dilemma and keep his beloved, but naïve, (and, sadly, a bit dim,) brother safe. And therein lies my main complaint about this book. I actually prefer beta heroes as opposed to the Alpha male heroes. But they don’t work so well when the book is set, not in the real world, but in the nether world of constant danger, evil, and death. Especially when our heroine is such a badass. I didn’t understand the romance. She had more in common and more chemistry with his crazy and dangerous brother. They really got each other. By comparison, Daniel seemed ineffectual. But a super-nice guy. A mensch. Yeah. He actually expresses qualms about stealing a car when they were running for their lives, pursued by the powers of hell. And he was apologizing all the way through the book for being so stupid. At one point, Kevin, the uber-tough agent, tells him to shut up so he can talk to his nemesis, Alex, because at least she has some sense. Those two are hostile towards each other through the majority of the book accompanied by a lot of amusing banter and snark, but they had mutual respect. They bonded over rolling their eyes at his brother and her love interest. But, to my disappointment, it was not foreplay.
Towards the end, I kind of sped-read, not feeling compelled to savor every word and development. As a side note, Kevin’s dogs also were a little over the top and added an almost fantasy element. (Think Dean Koontz’s Watchers). The ending was a little pat, but I didn’t mind that so much either. I like the way the epilogue was done. It was clever. All in all, an intriguing concept, competently done, but lacking any surprise or twists. She is not a great writer, like some non-literary entertainment-only novelists are, but she can spin a tale and keep you engaged. I’d give a sequel, if there is one, a chance. But please, first, a sequel to The Host!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 28, 2017

Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1)

By Jodi Taylor

I wasn’t all that blown away by this. Considering the enthusiastic reviews, and how much I loved The Nothing Girl, I was disappointed. It’s a great idea, but I think she bit off more than she could chew. A select group is tasked with observing and documenting pivotal events in history. They are sent back in time after extensive training. It is a very high concept intriguing plot line, but like many reviewers, I thought the many many characters were just sketched in and I didn’t feel like I knew them, so I wasn’t invested enough. I will probably try another in the series, because I have reason to believe her writing might improve as she writes more books.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

August 4, 2017

The Sherwood Ring

By Elizabeth Marie Pope

“A gentleman can hardly continue to sit,’ he explained, in his serenest and most level voice, ‘when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And – ‘he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, ‘I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame,’ he added, and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.”

This was a lovely light read involving friendly helpful ghosts and 3 charming love stories. I would have been so captivated had I read this as a young teen. I was pretty captivated as an adult. I would recommend this for any romantic teen who loves innocent love stories and history. Peaceable Sherwood was a wonderful character who provided a good portion of the gentle humor in this tale. He reminded me of Geoffrey Delavale in Patricia Veryan’s Journey to Enchantment

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 27, 2019

Every Secret Thing

By Susanna Kearsley (Emma Cole)

Later on, when I looked back on it, the only explanation I could give for what I did next was that, at the time, I saw no other way. My life, as I was living now, was not a life. To be in fear, to be in hiding, using someone else’s name – this wasn’t how I wanted to go on. And it would never stop, so long as both the murderer and I were still alive. My only thought on that long morning flight to London was that, one way or another, I would see it end, today.

This has been in my TBR pile for a very long time. I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be a long and heavy WWII angst-ridden emotional journey with lots of tragedy that would require a big commitment in time and emotion, as most of her other books do. It did have some of that, but mostly it was a normal-sized mystery and adventure that was very reminiscent of Mary Stewart, if she had written her books today, instead of 60 or 70 years ago. The heroine of this one, Kate, had the narrative voice of a Mary Stewart heroine and I also enjoyed the travelogue-like descriptions of Lisbon, Enola, and Washington DC. In Susanna Kearsley’s books, you can follow along with our heroine on Google Earth and really almost be there, on the scene.

I won’t go into the plot, but like most of Susanna’s novels, it involves a dual timeline. In order to investigate the mystery, and later to ensure justice is served, Kate, our investigative journalist, tracks down and interviews the now elderly men and women who can shed light on a murder that happened during WWII in Lisbon, Portugal. Their reminiscences are all part of the puzzle but also provide an entertaining story involving love, intrigue, and a portrait of a hero: Andrew Deacon. But someone who wants to silence her and those who would help her solve the puzzle is following her. Someone powerful with high connections with Whitehall. No one is to be trusted, including an attractive man she meets on her quest. And once the murderer is revealed, how will she exact justice and end the danger to herself and others?

By the end, you marvel at all of the threads that have come together to provide the satisfying conclusion. There is poignancy and sadness in the part of the story that belongs to Kate’s grandmother, but no regret. Being a romantic at heart, I wished for more closure on the page for Kate’s happy ending, but I know in my heart she will have one very soon after I put the book down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 5, 2021