The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by Jennifer Ryan
Published by Crown Publishing Group

I love when a book of fiction takes something from fact and teaches me something that I didn’t know. Of course, throughout history people have kept journals and correspondence – that’s how we know of things that happened in our past, without the benefit of TV and social media. What I didn’t know was that the British government encouraged those at home to keep journals of their experiences during the war. Again, just another way for the stalwart British to “keep calm and carry on”, but more importantly we are left with the diaries and journals of everyday lives on the home-front.*

This book is told in the epistolary style, through the journals and letters written by the women of Chilbury, and although it is fiction, it doesn’t feel like fiction. You’re peeking into the personal lives of ordinary women that went through this in reality; an amalgamation of the wives, sweethearts, daughters and sisters as they wait at home. Their hopes and dreams, and how they cope with the trepidation of losing a loved one; and the ever growing fear of Nazi invasion.

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

It’s the summer of 1940; England is sending its men off to war, leaving the women to keep the home fires burning – and taking on roles typically held by men. And that includes the village choir!

Being told that the choir is being disbanded for lack of men doesn’t sit well with Prim – the high energy, no nonsense, music teacher. Not to be deterred, she convinces the women of Chilbury that they can create their own choir. Some were skeptical, but with the usual aplomb displayed by the British during the worst of times, they pulled together with the knowledge that this one small thing could help keep the worries of the war at bay – even for just a little while. And so, the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is born.

But this book is more than just a story about a choir, although it’s a central theme. What really pulls these ladies together is the common ground of village life, and how they cope with air raids, food rationing, and of course a little romance and scandal.

The choir is made up of more women than we actually get to hear from, but the letters and journals that we do get to peek at follow an interesting group of women.

Kitty – although still a teenager, she’s an aspiring singer, and under the tutelage of Prim gains her voice and her confidence. She’s got a childhood crush on someone from the village, and it leads her to do something spiteful and mean.

Mrs. Tilling – a lonely widow, now having to cope with the fear of losing her son as he goes off to join the war. She’s the caring nurse that people rely on, and who has guessed an incredible secret.

Miss Paltry – a devious mid-wife, who hatches a plan out of greed, the money that she seeks a disturbing form of redemption for something in her past.

Venetia – the beauty that all the young men want but, of course, she only has eyes for the one that doesn’t give her the time of day. Has she fallen for the wrong guy, and can she face the consequences of her actions?

Sylvie – the youngest, and still a child, is a Jewish refugee that has seen far more than someone should for her age. Will she ever find out what happened to her family, and can she trust someone with her secret?

There are a host of other characters as well, and even though we never get to read their own journals or letters, they are just as important as their lives intertwine with those telling us the story.

From charming and funny, to heartbreaking and hopeful, this book has all the right ingredients to make it a favorite of mine, and one that I would highly recommend.

Another book that it’s very similar to this one, and another that I loved and would recommend, is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Also written in the epistolary style, this book chronicles the fictional lives of women on Guernsey during the German occupation.

*Known as Mass-Observation, its goal was to record observations of everyday life in Britain, by using untrained volunteer observers. It was criticized as an invasion of privacy, because the observers were not only reporting on their own lives, but on the lives of friends and neighbors as well.  For more information, visit the Wiki page:

As always, comments are welcome

The Girl Who Takes An Eye for An Eye by David Lagercrantz

The Girl Who Takes An Eye for An Eye by David Lagercrantz

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye
by David Lagercrantz
Published by Knopf

I just love this series!

It’s been almost 10 years since I read the first book, and learned that Stieg Larsson died before the publication of his Millennium series trilogy.  I figured that was it.  I would enjoy the three books, and move on.  But luckily for me, and many others, that wasn’t the end.  This book continues the story, and does so with the same thrilling, fast pace and entertaining format as the original trilogy.  I sped through this one in just a couple of days, which says a lot.  I picked it up every chance I got.

I won’t go into the controversy surrounding Larsson’s wishes, or the battle over his estate and who has rights to the series, I’d rather talk about the book…but if you’re interested, you can find all of that on the wiki page:

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the second book written by David Lagercrantz, who continues the series with the approval of Larsson’s estate – and I think he does a great job.  Let’s see, in this book we have an evil doctor, a story of twins, a suspicious death, some twists and turns, and last but not least – a little bit of hacking.

The story begins with Lisbeth Salander in prison serving a two month sentence for her actions from the previous book (see my earlier post on The Girl in the Spider’s Web).  She’s keeping her head down, biding her time until her release; but in true Lisbeth fashion, things don’t always go as planned.  She’s aware that the prison is being run by a corrupt system, and the cowardly warden is no help. In particular, Lisbeth has taken it upon herself to keep an eye on Faria, a young woman serving a sentence for killing her brother and who is regularly beaten and threatened by the prison bully.  She’s sure there’s more to Faria’s story, and has asked her attorney to look into it.

When her former guardian comes to visit her in prison, asking her questions about the origins of her dragon tattoo and leaving her with some cryptic clues, Lisbeth asks her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, to look into that as well.  Little does she know that Mikael is also attempting to put together an intricate puzzle on his own – which includes corruption, greed, fraud, and a social experiment gone very wrong.

But not one to sit still, Lisbeth confronts the warden, and hatches a plan from inside the prison.  As each clue is unraveled, the story quickly unfolds.

We get a glimpse into Faria’s home life, and find out the reason that she’s in prison and why she’s kept quiet about what really happened, and has done nothing to help her own case.  Lisbeth has figured out Faria’s story, and goes about retribution – “an eye for an eye”

While that story is being told, Mikael gains some insight into the mystery surrounding Lisbeth’s childhood, and how a clandestine agency has affected the lives of children like Lisbeth.  His investigation leads him to an incredible story about two children, now grown men, and how a deranged woman will do anything to make sure their story never goes public.

And finally, for those of us that have followed Lisbeth’s story from the very first book, we gain insight into how Lisbeth came to have a large tattoo of a dragon across her back.

Filled with intrigue, this book moves along these separate threads, culminating to a thrilling and fast paced resolution for one piece of the story; but still leaving some small threads left over. Does that mean there will be a third book written by Lagercrantz?  I certainly hope so.

Are you a fan of this series?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino

The Magnolia Story
by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino
Published by Thomas Nelson

I have a confession – I never heard of Chip and Joanna Gaines, or their HGTV show Fixer Upper, until they were well into their 4th season.

In the early days of HGTV I was an avid viewer, it was a fun network that was all about what their network call letters stood for – Home and Garden. But then it got into the reality TV mode, and shows started to become more about flipping homes, and other formats that focused on home owners, and not the home. The decorating shows that I loved were gone – so I stopped watching. Second confession – I really, really don’t like reality TV!

But then I kept hearing about this married couple who had a show called Fixer Upper; and apparently they had quite a following. My curiosity was piqued, so when HGTV ran a marathon one Saturday afternoon, I decided to give it a shot. Confession number three – I fell in love! The show is just that good! Chip and Joanna Gaines are smart, talented, and obviously have a wonderful relationship.

Watching the show, you get a pretty good sense of who they are – but how did they get there? This book tells the story of how Chip and Joanna fell in love, married, started flipping houses, started a family, and built their business and their brand. Their story is an inspiration – not on how they became savvy business owners, they’ve had their ups and downs on that front; and not on how they became TV stars, because that almost didn’t happen.

What’s so inspirational about this couple is how they believe in each other, how they prop each other up when the chips are down (no pun intended), and how they work through their problems knowing that whatever happens, they are stronger together. At first they appear to be complete polar opposites, but as you read their story, you realize that they aren’t that different. They have the same drive and work ethic to get things done and to succeed. They just seem to go about a little bit differently. Chip is comical and outgoing; Joanna is quiet and an introvert – for them, it was a match made in heaven. I loved reading about their early days, and how Joanna explains that she herself couldn’t even explain the attraction that she had for someone so boisterous.

I really enjoyed this little peek into their lives; their lows – how Chip’s dogs caused him to be arrested; Joanna telling the story of coming home after their idyllic honeymoon, only to find herself sleeping on the floor with a carpet stinking of dog urine; and how they almost lost everything. And their highs – how they rebounded back from the brink of bankruptcy; and how a houseboat gave them the opportunity to have their own TV show.

This book is a pretty quick read, narrated by Joanna (with Chip jumping in), as they each tell their story in the same funny and heartwarming way that they display on Fixer Upper. If you’re a fan of the show, this book is a must!

Next up on my Chip and Joanna Gaines reading list – Chip’s new book “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff”, and Joanna’s new design book, which isn’t out yet, but I certainly plan on getting a copy.

If you’re interested in learning more about Chip and Joanna Gaines, check out their website: and their TV show on HGTV, which is about to go into its 5th season,



84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road
by Helene Hanff
Published by Penguin Books

For such a tiny little book, at only 97 pages, this book packs a nice little punch. It’s such a sweet collection of letters, chronicling the friendship between Hanff and Frank Doel, a bookseller for Marks & Co., at 84 Charing Cross Road.

Hanff, best known for this book and as a writer for some early television, writes her first letter in 1949. She’s quite a collector of books, and has heard that Marks & Co. specializes in out of print books. She encloses a list, with instructions that they should be no more than $5 each.

She receives a reply, with a few books and an invoice. The enclosed letter is signed Yours faithfully, FPD For Marks & Co. And the friendship begins.

Hanff, writing from New York to London, continues her funny and acerbic correspondence with Frank, and others from the bookshop, until 1969. During that time we learn a little about the fondness and kindness that builds between Hanff and her new friends in England. From Hanff sending a ham and a carton of eggs to the shop – which were still rationed in England; to the shop employees sending her a hand embroidered linen cloth for Christmas.

The correspondence in the book tells more than just the story of a woman searching for books, it tells the story of how the lives of people from across the ocean can be entwined in friendship, even so far away.

I could not recommend a book more. This one is so sweet and touching, and I wish it had gone on forever.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments below.

Helene Hanff Wikipedia page:

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf
by Ryan Graudin
Published by Little, Brown and Company

What if Germany and Japan had been victorious in World War II?

What if you were able to change your appearance at will? Not just hair color or with make-up; what if you could completely change – hair, eyes, height, voice, everything.

What if you had the opportunity to kill Adolf Hitler?

It’s 1944, and Yael is crowded with her mother in a train car, heading to a concentration camp. She’s six years old, and although too young to really know what’s happening, she can feel the fear all around her.

This is how our story begins, but throughout the book it’s told from two different time lines. In the chapters titled “Then”, which take place in 1944 and beyond, we flash back to Yael’s life in the death camp; the chapters titled “Now”, which take place in 1956, we learn how Yael is part of a resistance movement to kill the now aged Adolf Hitler.

1944 – Yael is considered a special child. The experiments being conducted on the children in the concentration camp are not successful, and many have died. But not Yael. For some reason she’s surviving the torturous, painful injections and that makes her special. It also gives her the unique ability to completely change her appearance – like a shape shifter or skin walker.

Each time the story goes flashes back to 1944 we’re given glimpses of how Yael lived, survived, and eventually escaped the death camp. Her story is brutal and heartbreaking, but her suffering has also given her a unique opportunity to do something important – something meaningful.

1956 – The Third Reich rules part of the world, and Japan the other. All of the other countries have fallen, and have been divided between the two ruling empires. But that doesn’t mean that the world is at peace. There are still secret pockets of a resistance movement, and they’re waiting for an opportune moment to make themselves known. It’s their belief that once Hitler is killed, there will be enough chaos to bring the world back to what it once was before the insane and crazy rulers took over.

That’s where Yael comes in. She’s been training for a very important mission – and she’s determined to succeed even if it means that she will likely sacrifice her own life. Yael will be competing in the Axis Tour. The televised motorcycle race from Germania to Tokyo is used to show off the territories conquered by the two Axis empires, and to promote the alliance between the Third Reich and Japan. How Yael plans to accomplish this is the premise of the story.

Although the race was developed for boys only, one year ago, unbeknownst to the organizers and her own family, Adele Wolfe disguises herself as a boy, enters and then wins the race. This is unprecedented, and immediately pushes Adele to superstar status. Adele even catches the attention of Hitler himself, who seems to be smitten with Adele. Completely out of character, during the televised Victor’s Ball, Hitler asks Adele to dance. Watching them, Yael can’t help but cringe when she thinks of Adele having to touch such evil, but it’s because of that dance that the plan is hatched. Yael is going to transform her appearance and become Adele Wolfe, and she will win the race.

But it’s not as easy as it looked on paper. First she needs to find a way to stop the real Adele from joining the race. Then she needs to make sure that she wins – easier said than done. The other competitors are tough, and the race itself is grueling. To make matters worse, Yael never figured on Adele’s twin brother doing everything he can to convince “Adele” to quit; or how she feels about Adele’s arrogant ex-boyfriend. Is it hatred, or is it becoming something else? Yael needs to stay focused and keep her eye on the prize, wolf by wolf (yes, that’s a tease).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it was edge of your seat exciting and was paced very well. The character of Yael was so beautifully and thoughtfully written that even the outlandish shape shifting part of her story sounds believable. I’m really looking forward to starting the sequel “Blood for Blood”, which is sitting patiently on my shelf.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know if you’ve read this book or if you plan on reading it. Please feel free to comment below.

Bucky F*cking Dent by David Duchovny

Bucky F*cking Dent by David Duchovny

Bucky F*cking Dent
by David Duchovny
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post about a book, I find the most difficult part is the opening.  This one is no different, but it will also likely be one of the most difficult to put into words.  Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the book – but trying to describe why I liked it is not so easy.

First of all, it’s written by David Duchovny. Yes, that David Duchovny of X-Files fame.  I’m not a huge fan of his – although I did like his last series “Aquarius”, which sadly was cancelled after only 2 seasons.

Second, it revolves around baseball – one of my least favorite sports.

And lastly, it deals with a difficult subject – the impending death of a parent.

But with all of that against it from the outset, I took a leap of faith and gave it a try. Was it difficult? Yes, but it was also very well written, albeit in a weird stream of consciousness kind of style.

So let’s begin.  The book takes place in 1978 where we meet Ted, a young man who doesn’t feel like he’s living up to his own potential.  Well educated, and an aspiring writer, he finds himself employed at Yankee Stadium selling peanuts at baseball games.

Single, overweight, pot smoking and filled with regrets, Ted’s world gets turned upside down when he receives a phone call from Marianna, a nurse who tells him that Marty, his father, is in the hospital.  Although he’s been estranged from his father for 5 years, Ted makes his way to the hospital where Marianna introduces herself as a grief counselor – and explains that Marty has terminal lung cancer.

At this point, I’d like to mention that the book has a very disjointed writing style that I really didn’t like, and I almost gave up.  Duchovny writes this story mainly from Ted’s point of view, and the rambling inner dialogue took some getting used to.  It was like when you start to think of something and that thought moves in your brain to another thought, and another, until you get to the end of the string and you wonder, how in the world did I get here? But it became so integral to the story that I adjusted and kept with it.  I’m now pretty impressed with Duchovny’s writing.

Alright, back to the story – so Ted decides that when Marty is released from the hospital he will move back home to take care of his father.  Based on what we know of Ted so far, it’s hard to imagine that he can take care of himself, let alone his dying father.  But he digs in, and starts to build and repair the damaged relationship, while at the same time realizing that he’s starting to have feelings for Marianna.

We learn a lot about Ted and Marty’s relationship, and we also learn of Marty’s obsession with the Boston Red Sox.  The fact that Ted works for the NY Yankees is a bone of contention, not to mention that Marty believes that Ted is wasting away his talent for writing.

As they verbally spar with each other, something starts to take shape between them, and it becomes clear that Marty needs to be forgiven, and Ted sees a much different side of his father. The conversations between father and son are sometimes crude, contentious, funny, and even sweet.  When Marty starts to take a turn for the worse, Ted comes up with a hair brained idea to make his father believe that his beloved Red Sox are actually winning, and may even be in contention for the Championship.

With snappy dialogue, a cast of crazy characters and a bittersweet story between a father and son, this book totally surprised me. It’s smart, funny, and a bit sad, but I definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for something a bit different.

For those interested – Russell Earl “Bucky” Dent is a former American Major League Baseball player and manager. He earned two World Series rings as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978, and he was voted the World Series MVP in 1978. Dent is most famous for his home run in a tie-breaker game against the Boston Red Sox at the end of the 1978 season. (source: Wikipedia
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Have you read this book, or are you thinking of giving this one a try?  Please feel free to comment below.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by Thorndike Press

And once again, I chose a book that moves through time. I think I have a type.

We start out in 1947. World War II is over, but not by much in Europe, which is where we meet Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair. Charlie is a young American college student, who is in London with her mother to take care of her “little problem”. You see, Charlie is pregnant and unmarried. Still underage, her parents have made the decision for her, so her mother has made an appointment at a clinic in Switzerland. But Charlie has other plans. Not concerning her little problem, she’s still unsure how she feels about that; Charlie has decided to use this trip as an excuse to find her missing cousin Rose.

To Charlie, Rose is more than just her cousin – she’s the older sister that Charlie never had and the person that she has always looked up to. Rose’s family is from France, and while France was occupied, Charlie’s family received word that Rose was missing, presumed dead. But Charlie doesn’t believe that – she’s certain that if Rose was dead she’d know – feel it in her soul somehow. So she hatches a plan, and ditches her mother in London, and armed with just a stranger’s name and address, heads out to solve the puzzle of her missing cousin.

When Charlie arrives at the home of Evelyn (Eve) Gardner, she’s met with a gun wielding drunk. But Charlie is not going to let that stop her. She explains to Eve her reason for looking her up, and tries to convince her to help her find Rose. After laying out the very limited information that she has about the last time Rose was seen, Eve declines. But whether due to the lateness of the hour, or something that Charlie said, in a moment of weakness Eve allows Charlie to stay the night – but wants her gone at first light. But we all know that if Charlie leaves, there wouldn’t be a story. Eve eventually agrees and sets out for France with Charlie, along with her caretaker/driver Finn, who has a story of his own.

Flashback to 1915 – Evelyn Gardiner longs to join the war effort, but being a woman her chances are pretty slim. Until the day that she’s recruited to join a network of spies. At first she’s not sure why she was chosen; what she doesn’t realize is that she has three unique qualifications. One – she’s fluent in French and German; two – she has a stammer, which makes many people that meet her think she’s a bit on the dim side; and three – but maybe the most important, she’s a very, very good liar.

Once recruited and trained, Eve is sent to France for her first assignment with the Alice Network. There is a restaurant in France that caters to high ranking German occupiers. Eve must be hired as a waitress in order to eavesdrop on their conversations, and report back. Armed with her stammer, speaking fluent French, and feigning ignorance of the German language, Eve is hired.

And so the story moves between Charlie’s search for Rose in the aftermath of World War II; and Eve’s past as a spy during World War I. Each story is compelling, and told beautifully even when describing the horrors of war. I love Quinn’s writing and pace. She takes her time with each of the characters, and although each one is given a fair amount of backstory, its Eve’s story that takes center stage.

This is one of those books that stay with you long after you read the last page, and there are a few things that really stood out among the telling of the war and the spy network: the heartbreaking way that Charlie imagines she sees Rose every time she sees a young girl that resembles her; the way Finn delicately deals with Eve and the humor he uses with Charlie; how the three of them bond, and help each other with their own nightmares and insecurities; and lastly, how Charlie begins to come to terms with her pregnancy and her own coming of age.

Lastly, to make it even more interesting – The Alice Network is based on a real spy network, with one of the characters in the book based on the true life of Louise Bettignies, the leader of the Alice Network, which has a pretty interesting history.

Link to Kate Quinn’s page:
Kate Quinn’s Website

Follow Kate Quinn on Twitter: @KateQuinnAuthor

If you like this type of spy story, with strong female leads, then I also highly recommend “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. I listened to the audio version of this, and it was spectacular.

Link to the Wiki page for Louise Bettignies, who ran the Alice Network:
Louise de Bettignies