Friday, April 26, 2013

Paris: The Novel

by Edward Rutherford, Doubleday, April 2013

...for the diehard historical fiction fans

Hold onto your hats, we have an 800 page(get it on your favorite ereader)  fictional look at Paris that starts in 1260 with the building of Notre Dame Cathedral and finishes in 1968 with the student revolts.  The story follows several families through the years - the LeSourds who are revolutionarys, the Blanchards middle class merchants, the Gascons skilled labourers and the deCynges who are aristocrats.  In what I guess is typical for European society, they never change class - aristocrats from the 13th century are still aristocrats in WWII, etc.   

There is so much ground to cover that the author sacrifices character development for historical detail.  No major milestone in Parisian history is unrecorded in this story.  The wars with England, the expulsion of Jews, the Revolution, the Paris Commune, building the Eiffel Tower, the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and II are all part of it. I would have preferred a little less history and a little more depth of character but not to be.   The bulk of the tale is set between 1860 and 1945 but in a decision that I found hard to follow the author jumps back and forth in time in telling the tale.  The author is very descriptive about Paris neighborhoods; I do not have a familiarity with the geography of the city but if you do I bet you will like this aspect of the story.  Even though I read and mostly enjoyed this tomb I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to any but die hard historical fiction fans.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Those Angry Days:Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941

by Lynne Olson, Random House, March 2012

...a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

Lynne Olson tells the story of the fight between the isolationists and the interventionists in the months leading up the the entry of the US into WWII.  This detailed history reads like a novel. 

On the isolationist side, the author has rightly centered her story around Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh’s character and personality is revealed through his wife Anne’e writings and the diaries of other family members and friends.  He is really a fascinating character.  All of the characteristics that made him so successful in aviation - independence, self assuredness, even arrogance were all the wrong traits to make him successful in political discourse.  Because of the issues around his son's kidnapping and death and the intense publicity that surrounded him in the US he relocated to Europe in the 1930s and became enamoured with the regimented and controlled life in Nazi Germany.  There were a few other interesting characters on the isolationist side, including some senior US military (George Marshall, Hap Arnold) and young intellectuals like John F. Kennedy, Sarge Shriver, and Brewster King.  While the debate between the two groups started in a high minded way, the isolationist’s soon attracted all kinds of crazies (radical Catholics, Communists, racial purists, Jew haters) to their cause and the debate sank to new lows (sound familiar today).

The interventionist story is centered around FDR and those advisers (Stimson, Knox) who supported the British cause.  FDR is portrayed as uncharacteristically reluctant to voice support for the interventionist cause.  What I found interesting was the role played by individual citizens in promoting the selective service act and the provision of military equipment to Britain.  Additionally the British ambassador to the US, Lord Lothian was a truly heroic character, actually sacrificing his health and life to work promoting the British cause to Americans.

I liked this book but not nearly as much as two earlier WWII books the author had - Citizens of London, and A Question of Honor.  I think the subject matter dealt with here was just less exciting that either the war in Britain or the story of the Polish aviators.  Nonetheless this is a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

His Majesty's Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery

by Susan Elia MacNeal, Bantam, May 2013

... a fun series

This is the third novel in this WWII mystery series.  Maggie Hope, a Brit who was raised in the US is the heroine.  The first novel in the series, Mr Churchill’s Secretary introduced Maggie as a feisty, independent woman with a head for breaking codes and a propensity for attracting danger.  In the second novel Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, Maggie has joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and protects the young princesses from intrigue as she learns more about her own convoluted family history.

This story finds Maggie fully trained and ready for an overseas assignment.  The year is 1941 and Maggie finds herself chosen by Churchill himself to conduct  a dangerous mission  that takes her right into Berlin. Lots of danger and suspense here and you are almost sure that things will not go well for Maggie. In addition to her mission she uncovers more info about her family that is very interesting.

The author does a great job with historical detail.  I also love the fact that she mixes real life characters with fictional ones.  You get a good picture of life in Berlin circa 1941. The characters are rich and well drawn.   This is a fun series so I almost hate to make any negative comments because I do enjoy it, but the author relies on an inordinate amount of coincidences to further the story line.  I think the story would be just as compelling with slightly less of these far fetched add ons. Having said that, if you like WWII mysteries with strong female heroines, this series is for you.  Can’t wait for the next story - The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent in 2014.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.