Friday, December 30, 2022

My Favorite Reads of 2022: Reading Room Recommendations

 It's always hard to do a Favorite Reads of the Year list.  After reading and reviewing for so many years, I tend to know what books I will enjoy.  So, when it comes to narrowing the number down to "favorites," I invariably end up with a large list.  I've decided that's okay, because all the lists for this end-of-the-year round-up are different, and you might see a title on my list you wouldn't see somewhere else.  I highly recommend any of the books that have made my list.  My list contains favorite authors who seem to always land in my favorite reads, but there are also three new (one new-to-me and two debut) authors who came in and swept me off my feet.  Chris Bohjalian, C.J. Carey, and Shelby Van Pelt are most welcome to the many authors I follow. 

I've linked my reviews to all these books in their titles.  Just click on the title and it will take you to my review here at my blog.  I hope that my list gives readers some reads that will be outstanding for them, too.




   The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022)







The Water’s Dead by Catherine Lee (2022)






The Locked Room (Ruth Galloway #  ) by Elly Griffiths (2022)





The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf (2022)






The Companion by Lesley Thomson (2022)





Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King (2022)





  Forsaken Country by Allen Eskens (2022)







A World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18)  (2022)






Bleeding Heart Yard (Harbinder Kaur #3) byElly Griffiths (2022)







Still Waters (F.B.I. K-9 # 7) by Sara Driscoll(2022)







Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (2022)







  Widow Land by C.J. Carey (2022)







Peril in Paris (Her Royal Spyness #16) by Rhys Bowen





Fatal Reunion (Zoe Chambers Mystery #11) byAnnette Dashofy (2022)






A Girl Called Justice: The Spy at the Window(Justice Jones #4) by Elly Griffiths (2022)







Murder in Immunity (Acton and # 15) by AnneCleeland (2022)






A Three Dog Problem/All the Queen’s Men (HerMajesty the Queen Investigates #3) by S.J. Bennett (2022)






Murder at the Jubilee Rally (Samuel Craddock #9) by Terry Shames (2022)







The Bullet That Missed (Thursday Murder Club #3) by Richard Osman  (2022)





Bricks and Bones (Sin City Investigations #5)by J.D. Allen (2022)



Mother DaughterTraitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal






The Case of the Disgraced Duke (WISE Enquiries Agency #5) by Cathy Ace  (2022)





A Dish to Die For (Key West Food CriticMystery #12) by Lucy Burdette (2022)

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal: Reading Room Review


Susan Elia MacNeal is one of my favorite authors, who often introduces me to pieces of history I should be familiar with but am not and history I might be familiar with but not enough.  These are not history lessons.  They are better.  They are stories evolving from the history that makes it personal and more meaningful.  I’m a firm believer in historical fiction as one of the best ways to expand one’s knowledge of the events, both out front and behind the scenes, of how our world came to be what it is today.  We all need to understand that.  In MacNeal’s new stand-alone novel Mother Daughter Traitor Spy, she exposes the depth of the Nazi activity in America, especially in California, before our country entered WWII.  I first became cognizant of how widespread and organized the Nazi problem was pre-WWII in this author’s previous book, Hollywood Spy, the tenth book in the Maggie Hope series.  Now in the stand-alone, I discover just what a deep-seated danger the American Nazis, fueled by the leaders of Germany Nazis, was.  What makes this story and information so important is its relevance to the hate problems in our country today.  Philosopher George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” has been paraphrased over the years as, “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”  Susan Elia MacNeal has done a deep dive into research to show readers just what devastation they could face by not remembering this particular part of history.  A cautionary tale indeed.

Veronica and Violet (Vi) Grace find themselves in an unplanned move across the country from Brooklyn to Los Angles, California.  Veronica, a bright and rising journalism student had just graduated from college and was set to intern at Mademoiselle Magazine in NYC when her affair with a married journalist brought the wrath of his wife down on Veronica, causing the young journalist-to-be to lose her internship and leave the city.  Within days of settling into Veronica’s uncle’s empty bungalow in California, Veronica finds a typing job for Educational Service Bureau in Los Angles.  Vi’s pension from being a Navy widow only goes so far, and Veronica will have to put her journalism dreams on hold for a practical job.  

The man who has hired Veronica works out of his home, with his wife, who is also seemingly involved in the work.  Veronica finds out the first day that the “work” is spreading Nazi propaganda and building up the numbers in the American Nazi cells.  She is appalled and has no plans to return to this job, where talk of overthrowing the United States government and installing a Hitler-based system is a real objective.  Veronica and Vi try to report these subversive activities to the police and the F.B.I., but these institutions are more interested in catching communists than Nazis.  After their warnings fall on deaf ears with law enforcement, Vi calls a friend of her husband’s in the Navy, and this high-ranking officer doesn’t dismiss their concerns.  He puts them in touch with Ari Lewis, head of a spy ring uncovering and monitoring Nazi activity in California.  Lewis, a Jew, knows just how dangerous the Nazis in America are and that they are targeting major installations of different cities’ infrastructures and infiltrating the armed forces.  With Veronica and Vi being of German heritage and having the blond hair/blue eyes, they are the perfect infiltrators into the world of Nazi followers who call themselves the American Bund and who are getting their orders from Germany.  

It’s an undertaking fraught with peril, but Veronica and Vi agree to play the parts of Nazi sympathizers.  Veronica returns to work for the Nazi propaganda people, and Vi makes headway into a organization of women who are pro-Nazism, the America First Committee.  The mother and daughter spy team don’t shy away from getting as close as they can to the action and the people who are propagating the Nazi way of life.  Veronica starts dating one of the movers and shakers of the California Nazi organizers, and Vi becomes best friends with one the movements most powerful women.  The viciousness of these Nazis is part of their modus operandi, and these women face certain death if their duplicity is discovered. With it being 1940 and 1941, readers will see the extents to which the American Nazis are prepared to go to prevent President Roosevelt being elected to a third term and to deter our country from entering WWII.  The American Nazis’ vision is for a white supremacist “Christian” government based on Hitler’s in Germany.

Suspense is thick and constant in Mother Daughter Traitor Spy.  It is a suspense born from the true life stories of Sylvia Comfort and her mother Grace Comfort, who were actual spies for Leon L. Lewis, the real spymaster represented by Ari Lewis in the book.  The authenticity continues with other characters who are based on real-life people, both heroes and villains of the Nazi story of 1930s and 40s in California.  Susan Elia MacNeal includes outstanding notes at the end of the book explaining who is who and provides an extensive bibliography for her research.  This is the best of historical fiction, well-researched and the history woven into a fascinating fact-based story.  The plausibility of the characters’ actions is never in question with MacNeal’s carefully plotted sequence of events.  

Some books transcend a reading recommendation made for a great story or captivating characters or gripping suspense, which, of course, are all found in Mother Daughter Traitor Spy.  As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I’m a fan of historical fiction bringing important events and people to our attention.  The precarious state of our world and more specifically our country, where hate crimes have risen dramatically over the last five or six years, demands that we pay attention to the mistakes and dangers of the past in order not to repeat them.  As a former teacher, I realize the importance of teaching students with interesting materials.  I have a list of historical fiction books I would like to see schools use in broadening students’ awareness of this country’s history and bringing it alive as to how it applies to today.  Of course, I don’t want my enthusiasm for education to overshadow my recommendation that this book is at its core an amazing read.  It’s a thrilling story of two brave women in an extraordinary set of circumstances they could never have imagined.  A riveting tale of heroism.  

Friday, December 16, 2022

Winter's End (Alaska Wild #4) by Paige Shelton: Reading Room Review


The Alaska Wild series by Paige Shelton is not a survivalist series, and, yet it is. This mystery/crime series set in the isolated small town of Benedict, Alaska presents a challenge where every person who lives there must respect the weather and the terrain to survive. It’s not a place for the faint of heart. It’s smart living, without smart devices. Cell phone reception is spotty and there are only a few landlines in the town. It’s a good place to get lost, or rather not be found. Beth Rivers has been counting on the isolation of Benedict to protect her from a man who kidnapped, tortured, and intended to kill her back in her home state of Missouri. That man, Travis Walker, is still on the loose and eluding the authorities. Beth has gone from her persona as best-selling mystery writer Elizabeth Fairchild to just plain Beth Rivers, another seeker of anonymity in the wilds of Alaska. Only a few people in Benedict know of her background, with just as few outside of Benedict knowing her where-abouts. In Winter’s End, Beth is seeing shadows of a man whom she fears may be her worst nightmare come to claim her.

Beth has made it through her first winter in Benedict, and it’s now springtime, the time residents do the “Death Walk” to determine who has and hasn’t been smart and lucky enough to have another winter under their belt. Although it sounds like a morbid event, it’s a time for the community to gather and see one another, after a long time of being confined to their homes. Most see it as a celebratory time. Even people who are reclusive, deliberately living away from everyone else, come to check in. Two such reclusive families are the Oliphants and the Millers, families who live in the same area of outlying wilderness and who have feuded for years. Beth knows one of the Millers, Kaye, as Beth had given Kaye one of her friend Elijah’s sled dogs when he suddenly left Benedict months before. Beth had been on a walk with Kaye and their dogs just the previous day.

On “Death Walk Day,” the residents of the town and the area arrive in Benedict and check their names off a printed list. When it appears all residents who are going to show up have, the list is perused for names left unchecked, and those people’s homes, either in town or out in the country, are visited by groups to determine their well-being. The first person found missing was 94-year-old Al, who lived by himself in an isolated cabin. Beth and Orin, the town librarian (and much more) discovered Al in his cabin but not in the best of shape. When Orin goes back to town to get help in bringing Al down the mountain to see the doctor, Orin disappears.

The other person missing on “Death Walk Day” is Warren Miller, Kaye’s husband. It’s shortly determined that his wife Kaye is also missing, and her name was checked off on the list by someone else, person unknown. When one of these two ends up murdered, a tragic story of hate and love must be untangled, and Beth is right in the middle of untangling it. Beth had unofficially worked with her grandfather in law enforcement in Missouri before he died and she started her writing career, and she had a special gift for reading a criminal scene. She’s also trying to solve the mystery of where Orin is and what he’s up to. Then, there’s another curiosity in the story, a male parolee staying at the Benedict House where Beth rents a room from Viola, the manager and person overseeing the half-way house. This is the first time a male has ever stayed there, as it’s supposed to be a half-way house for female non-violent convicts. But, he seems like a nice guy and can cook like nobody’s business.

So, there’s lots of intrigue and mystery in this latest book of the Alaska Wild series. It never seems disjointed though. It’s a smooth series of events that all end up sorted, with plenty of surprises. Paige Shelton has created and developed quite a few interesting characters for this series, and readers will learn backgrounds of several in this story that explain their current set of circumstances. Beth will personally receive a couple of big shocks that the readers will enjoy. I am wondering if the series will last much longer with the amount of plot and character forward movement here, but there is certainly room for Beth to have more mysteries to solve and more personal growth to experience. I know that I’m hoping to read many more stories in this favorite series, as I love the Alaska setting and the community of Benedict I’ve gotten to know.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advanced copy of Winter’s End.