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Friday, April 19, 2024

Review - Murder In Westminster

 "Perfect for readers looking for a darker twist on Bridgerton, this first in a vibrant, inclusive historical mystery series from an acclaimed author Vanessa Riley portrays the true diversity of the Regency-era, as an aristocrat whose skin color and notorious family history have left her with few friends she can rely on is named as the prime suspect in a murder case…"

Author: Vanessa Riley

Copyright: Aug 2022 (Kensington Books) 338 pgs

Series: 1st in Lady Worthing Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, otherwise mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy

Main Character: Lady Abigail Worthing, Scottish & Jamaican, is married to a Lord who stays at sea 

Setting: 1806, London England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Discovering a body on her property presents Lady Abigail Worthing with more than one pressing problem. The victim is Juliet, the wife of her neighbor, Stapleton Henderson. Although Abigail has little connection with the lady in question, she expects to be under suspicion. Abigail’s skin color and her mother’s notorious past have earned her a certain reputation among the ton, and no amount of wealth or status will eclipse it.

Abigail can’t divulge that she was attending a secret pro-abolition meeting at the time of the murder. To her surprise, Henderson offers her an alibi. Though he and Juliet were long estranged, he feels a certain loyalty to his late wife. Perhaps together, he and Abigail can learn the truth. . . . Abigail, whose marriage was not a love match, knows well how appearances can deceive—and how treacherous London’s high society can be. Yet who would have killed Juliet, and why? Taking the reins of her life in a way she never has before, Abby intends to find out—but she may uncover more danger than she ever imagined . . ."

MY Thoughts:

Abigail, Lady Worthing, joins the ranks of historical amateur sleuths giving us a mixed race young woman who is a delight but a little bit of a troubled soul. I found her a woman of substance that I would love to sit with and have deep coversations.  Cousin Florentina is a math minded wiz and Abigail's closest friend.  Mr. Neil Vaughn, her godfather, thinks of her and Florentina as his own children and seems a mysterious man who is protective of those he loves.  The next door neighbor, Stapleton Henderson, the recent widower, has the most obvious motive to kill but Abigail finds herself investigating alongside him. He holds everything inside and is hard to figure out.  To lighten things a little is Teacup, Abigail's terrier that only lets Abigail touch him, until Henderson.

There are plenty of suspects as Juliet Henderson had several men and she had more secrets than lovers.  This had a good twist to make this a wonderful mystery. The climax was well done and the wrap-up left me stunned.  Kudos on that.  It left me wanting to immediatedly jump into the next book which is a goal of every author but not often achieved.  I'm a fan and will be reading the second shortly.

Have you read this book?  Share your thoughts in the comments please.

Rating:   Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Espionage Play Review: Rubicon

Rubicon World Premier program
Today I'm reviewing a play rather than a movie, and a spy play based on a true story!  It's a brand new play I saw in Denver at it's world premier.  That's right, it's new and I wanted to share it with all of you.  

There are books about Elizabeth (Betty) Pack--nee Thorpe ("The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal" by Howard Blum and "Cast No Shadow" by Mary S. Lovell), but no splashy movies.  That's why this play felt important to me.  FYI: No nudity, I'd rate it PG13

Play Blurb:
"Starting in the years leading up to World War II, the plot follows Elizabeth “Betty” Pack as she transitions from society wife and mother to steely, seductive agent for British and American Intelligence.  As missions take her from Madrid to Warsaw to Washington, Betty uses her charm, beauty, and intellect as tools of espionage, leveraging her sexuality to influence global affairs.

Overflowing with intrigue and wit, Rubicon is an engaging portrait of an unsung heroine and the sacrifices she makes to change the course of the war. It addresses the stigma attached to choosing professional determination and personal agency over traditional gender expectations. It’s a work that’s suspenseful, alluring, and surprising all at once."

What's It About?:
  It's about a charming, beautiful, and intelligent multi-lingual woman whose father is a Marine Corps officer and mother is a Senator's daughter in the heart of the Washinton DC political scene who gets recruited to spy.  She is completely unconventional for the time and looked down upon by many because of it, but they can't fault her results.  She is what many might call a "free spirit" and others just call "promiscuous" but she gains important information in her work for first MI6 and then the precursor to the CIA leading up to and during WWII.  Because of her parents, she is completely comfortable working in the aristocratic world of international diplomatic society and she is adept at seduction to get secrets, but it all comes at a personal cost.

"Wars are not won by respectable methods" Betty Pack

Written by Kirsten Potter
Directed by Chris Coleman

Starring (most played multiple parts):
Carolyn Holding at Betty Pack
Geoffry Kent as Beaverton
Kate Forbes as Lady Chilton
Aaron Blakely as Arthur Pack 
Pomme Koch as Senator Gerald Nye and Antonio
**This play was developed at the 2022 New Play Summit (Denver Center Theatre Company)

Being so very new there aren't many reviews yet.

“There’s a slinky elegance to Rubicon. The [stage] design is spare but evocative and the show moves with a fluid ease, finding the tension, sexual frisson or coy playfulness of a scene.” – The Denver Post

"Rubicon is an engaging story well told in a sleek production that does Potter’s script justice. Wartime spawns a thousand stories, but so many of them are tales of men. Here, we get an up-close look at a woman who knew her power and how to use it."  Alex Miller, On Stage Colorado

  • Photo-by-Jamie-Kraus-Photography
    Rubicon is the act that commits someone to a particular course; point of no return.
  • Betty's memoirs are now in the archives of Churchill College, Cambridge.
  • Betty was labeled "The Blond Bond" by Time Magazine, only she's not fictional.
  • One of Betty's missions was to steal the Vichy ciphers (the books that held the codes to the enigma machine used by the Nazis) at extreme risk to herself.  She did it, too.
  • Director Chris Coleman created the position of “psychodramaturgy” where Barbara Hort, a psychologist, offers psychological insights into the characters for the actors.
  • Betty's official code name was Cynthia.
  • Betty was refered to as the "Minnesota Mata Hari" and the "greatest unsung heroine of the war."
  • The world premier was extended for another week because it was so popular.
Photographer unknown
My Thoughts:
I loved this play.  The first act was the build up to her becoming a spy, so it was a little slow, understandable though.  But after she was recuited by MI6 the story took off.  

The comedic touches were great, keeping what could have been a depressing commentary on how she was regarded to a breezy feel at times.  You begin to see it how Betty did--there were far bigger issues at hand to be so sensitive.  

The play brings out the sacrifices she made for the sake of winning the war (not being part of her child's life much at all).  Occasionally, you see that she's scared, but determined to do her part to stop Hitler.  It also showed how closely she played it to the wire, at one point juggling two men at the same time to get critical time sensitive information.  The play shows she was a force, a great spy, a wounded and misunderstood woman, intelligent enough to know what would happen if she were caught but daring enough to pull it off anyway.  

The ending was like the rug being pulled out from under me.  I truly hope this play gets plenty of attention and is picked up by other play houses because it's just too good to not have more aclaim and attention.   Be looking for it.

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.


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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Review - The Never Game

I am a fan of Jeffrey Deaver, I just have sooo many books to read that his tend to get pushed aside.  I have been watching the new TV show "Tracker" and I wanted to read at least the first in the series that inspired the show.  I've only reviewed two prior books of his, although I've read more of the Lincoln Rhyme books than shown here.  

 The Burning Wire: Lincoln Rhyme (click here

XO: Kathryn Dance (click here)  

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Copyright: Mar 2019 (G.P. Putnam's Sons) 413 pgs

Series: 1st in Colter Shaw Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, intimacy-no details

Mystery Sub-genre: Contemporary Detective

Main Character: Colter Shaw, rewardist with a heart 

Setting: Contemporary Silicon Valley, California

Obtained Through: Library

 Book Blurb:  "The son of a survivalist family, Colter Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a “reward seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and locate missing persons for private citizens.

“You’ve been abandoned. Escape if you can. Or die with dignity.”

Hired by the father of a young woman who has gone missing in Silicon Valley, Shaw's search takes him into the dark heart of America’s cutthroat billion-dollar video-game industry. When another person goes missing, Shaw must ask: Is a madman bringing a twisted video game to life?

Encountering eccentric designers, trigger-happy gamers, and ruthless tech titans, Shaw soon learns that he isn't the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast...."

I'll be reviewing the television series based on this book shortly, but for now let's focus on the books that lead to the show. 

MY Thoughts:

Colter Shaw was raised by a paranoid schizophrenic father (formerly history, political science, and humanities professor) who was a survivalist and a medical school professor mother.  He graduated from the University of Michigan in law and interned at a law firm, but he couldn't stand working in an office.  Colter and his siblings were raised on roughly 1,000 acres in Sierra Nevada foothills living off the grid.  His father ingrained in the children his list of "nevers" such as: 

Never antagonize beast or man.

Never adopt a strategy or approach without assigning percentages.

Never assign a percentage until you have as many facts as possible and many more.

Colter has a team backing him: Teddy and Velma Bruin, who watch his actual home while he's traveling in a Winnebago and find him reward jobs, plus he has a private investigator, Mack whose last name is not yet mentioned . They are introduced and we get a little bit about Teddy and Velma but they aren't developed much yet.  Local cop LaDonna Standish was a gem I enjoyed.

The plot is finally crafted with plenty of red herrings to lead you down to the wrong person.  The setting of Silicon Valley shows the wealthy in sharp contrast to those struggling to get by pay check by pay check.  I have to say this character and the pacing kept me fully engaged.  

The climax was thrilling and nail biting.  Perfection.  The writing style is detailed where needed and efficient when needed.  Some chapters are flashbacks to Colter's growing up and that is doling out peeks into his non-traditional upbringing and a mystery involving his father.  This will be an ongoing theme in the next book, apparently.  I'm a fan of this new series and will be going to the next in the series.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Musings - Library of Congress, What Is It?

 It's National Library Week, so it seems fitting to take a look at the Library of Congress.

What the heck is it?  

It is the U.S. National Library, but it's primary mission is research inquiries made by members of Congress.   

It also houses and oversees the United States Copyright Office.  Additionally, the library also administers the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, an audio book and braille library program provided to more than 766,000 Americans.  The sheer size and variety of it's total collection makes it the world’s largest library.

The library now consists primarily of three buildings. The main building dates from 1897. In 1980, it was renamed the Thomas Jefferson building. This is where you will want to head if you’re visiting Washington, D.C.  There is also the John Adams Building, the James Madison Memorial Building, and the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard
An interesting bit of trivia, there was so much emphasis on the exterior architecture during the planning that they neglected plans for the interior.  An interior designer was brought on board and he made it just as impressive, if not more so.

The Library of Congress is open to the public, although only high-ranking government officials and library employees may borrow from the materials.  You can apply for a "reader card" but you can't take items out of the building.  Remember, it is primarily a research institution.

It was first conceived of by James Madison in 1783.  Before Washington D.C. was set as our Capitol and "in the years after the Revolutionary War, the Philadelphia Library Company and New York Society Library served as surrogate congressional libraries whenever Congress held session in those respective cities." Wikipedia  It was in April 1800 that the seat of our government was officially declared to be Washington D.C. and thus they needed a library to serve their needs for research.  The same decree that made D.C. the location of our government provided money for the purchase of books necessary for the nation's representative leadership to conduct research, as well as a place to house them.  It started with just 740 books and 3 maps.

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard
Thomas Jefferson was deeply involved in the organizing of the libarary.  But in the war of 1814 with England, several government buildings were burned including the library of Congress with many of the then 3000 books burned.  It wouldn't be the only time it had a serious fire.  Thomas Jefferson's personal library of 6,487 books (including a two-volume translation of the Qu'ran) was purchased to restock the library.  Thank you TJ!  There is a wonderful round shelving display that contains Jefferson's library pictured here. 

In 1865, the Library was in the process of procurring a new fire-proof building when the Smithsonian's Castle experienced a fire that spurred the Smithsonian to donate their non-scientific books (40,000 in total) to the Library of Congress.  

At this writing the Library of Congress has:

- More than 32 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages     

- More than 61 million manuscripts

      - The largest rare book collection in North America  

- The rough draft of the Declaration of Independence 

- Over 1 million U.S. government publications 

1 million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries 

                --33,000 bound newspaper volumes 

  --500,000 microfilm reels 

      U.S. and foreign comic books—over 12,000 titles in all, totaling more than 140,000 issues  

- 1.9 million moving images (as of 2020) 

- 5.3 million maps 

- 6 million works of sheet music 

- 3 million sound recordings 

- More than 14.7 million prints and photographic images including fine and popular art pieces and architectural drawings 

- The Betts Stradivarius Violin

- And the Cassavetti Stradivarius Violin

Yes, they have 15 million digital objects, the majority are available via their website.  They continue to digitize the collection.

Many of these facts about the Library of Congress I didn't know until I did research for this piece.  I hope this was as fascinating to you as it was to me.  I hope to visit there someday.

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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Review - The Secret of the Lost Pearls

 This series and characters started with Berkley as the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries.  But Berkley suddenly discontinued many of their mysteries, so author Darcie Wilde went to Kensington and they continued the books with the same characters as the Useful Woman Mysteries.  Here are my prior reviews of the Berkley books.

1) A Useful Woman (click here)  

2)  A Purely Private Matter (click here)  

3)  And Dangerous to Know (click here

5)  A Counterfeit Suitor (click here)  

Guest post 2016  (click here

Guest post 2017  (click here)  

Author: Deanna Rayburn

Copyright: Dec 2022 (Kensington) 406 pgs

Series: 1st in A Useful Woman Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, nothing explicit nor violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Rosalind Thorne, former heiress now on the outskirts of society

Setting: Early 1800s (Regency,) London

Obtained Through: library

 Book Blurb:  "Rosalind Thorne may not have a grand fortune of her own, but she possesses virtues almost as prized by the haut ton: discretion, and a web of connections that enable her to discover just about anything about anyone. Known as a “most useful woman,” Rosalind helps society ladies in need—for a modest fee, of course—and her client roster is steadily increasing.

Mrs. Gerald Douglas, née Bethany Hodgeson, presents Rosalind with a particularly delicate predicament. A valuable pearl necklace has gone missing, and Bethany’s husband believes the thief is Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister. Nora made a scandalous elopement at age sixteen and returned three years later, telling the family that her husband was dead.

But as Rosalind begins her investigations, under cover of helping the daughters of the house prepare for their first London season, she realizes that the family harbors even more secrets than scandals. The intrigue swirling around the Douglases includes fraud, forgery, blackmail, and soon, murder. And it will fall to Rosalind, aided by charming Bow Street officer Adam Harkness, to untangle the shocking truth and discover who is a thief—and who is a killer."

MY Thoughts:

I really like Rosalind ever since the first book and I love the developing relationship with Bow Street runner, Adam Harkness.  They have such a sweetness between them.   Alice Littlefield, Rosalind's best friend, is now her roommate and leaves clutter around, so they now need a bigger place to survive together. Things are changing for Rosalind and she is hesitant to embrace it all.

Rosalind is challenged with this case and feels out of her depth a time or two.  But she persists and still figures out the intricacies with her eagle eyes.  The plot is a winding road and not easy to pin down what is really going on behind the scenes as every member of the household seems to have secrets.  The pacing kept me reading as something was being revealed or another twist that kept it interesting.    

Although the killer reveal wasn't a gripping or harrowing scene, I enjoyed it as all the pieces were put into place.  The wrap up took care of the final hanging thread.

I love the writing style, the interesting characters, and the twisty plot.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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