Stacking the Shelves (127)

Stacking the Shelves

I love our cats. I really do. Even when, sometimes especially when, they sit on my morning newspaper or try to get between my eyes and my iPad. That’s adorable. Howsomever, Mellie peed on my clothes last night. (No, I wasn’t wearing them, but still…) It’s moments like this that make me ask, “Why was that again?” in reference to the question, “Why do we keep them around?” But then someone does something cute and the whole thing is self-explanatory.

mellie face on box
Mellie being cute


But someone still needs to explain to my why Mellie only does this to my clothes, and never Galen’s clothes. it’s a mystery.

Of course I’d much rather read than do laundry. But needs must.

For Review:
17 Carnations by Andrew Morton
The Case of the Invisible Dog (Shirley Homes #1) by Diane Stingley
Hard as a Rock (Gargoyles #3) by Christine Warren
Idol of Blood (Looking Glass Gods #2) by Jane Kindred
The Irish Brotherhood by Helen O’Donnell
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
Master Thieves by Stephen Kurkjian
Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragons #3) by Isabel Cooper
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum
Sharp Shootin’ Cowboy (Hot Cowboy Nights #3) by Victoria Vane
Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville
The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane
Zack (Cold Fury Hockey #3) by Sawyer Bennett

Purchased from Amazon:
Neanderthal Seeks Human (Knitting in the City #1) by Penny Reid

Borrowed from the Library:
Butcher’s Hill (Tess Monaghan #3) by Laura Lippman
In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan #6) by Laura Lippman
The Last Place (Tess Monaghan #7) by Laura Lippman

Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

dangerous place by Jacqueline winspearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover ebook, audiobook, large print
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #11
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: March 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Maisie Dobbs returns in a powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy: a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gilbraltar leads the investigator into a web of lies, deceit and danger

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Review:

maisie dobbs by jacqueline winspearCompared to how much I loved the two other books in the Maisie Dobbs series that I have read, Maisie Dobbs (reviewed here) and Leaving Everything Most Loved (reviewed here), I have some very mixed feelings about A Dangerous Place.

It certainly is dangerous – Maisie is in Gibraltar in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. While the war did not touch Gibraltar directly, refugees fled into or through the city every day. Sometimes a trickle, sometimes in droves. The British officialdom at this normally quiet and tiny outpost of the Empire was officially overwhelmed.

And Maisie throws herself into the middle of the mess, because it is preferable to throwing herself into the arms of death, one way or another. At the end of her rope, she finds purpose again in Gibraltar by going back to her own beginnings, at least professionally.

Why is Maisie so close to self-destruction? That’s the hard part of this story. It has been four years since the end of Leaving Everything Most Loved, and in that intervening period, Maisie has been surprisingly happily married, pregnant, miscarried and widowed. All those harrowing events are dealt with in a series of letters that form the first chapter of the book.

Maisie spends the entire rest of the story dealing with her overwhelming grief while trying to put the pieces of her life back together. It is a harrowing chain of events, and Maisie is still not past them enough to even function. She is on her way back to England from India when she realizes that she cannot yet bear the thought of seeing all the places that she and James knew together, so she disembarks at Gibraltar in order to prevent being overcome by her own depression.

Only Maisie could find a dead body under these circumstances, but find one she does. And slowly, reluctantly, Maisie takes on the unofficial case of determining how and why Sebastian Babayoff really died. Was he just a victim of a desperate refugee and unfortunate circumstances? Or, as Maisie begins to suspect was Babayoff murdered because he was a young, foolish and occasionally intrepid photographer who took the right picture at the very much wrong time.

As Maisie investigates, she begins her return to the practices that her mentor Maurice Blanche instilled in her before she fell in love with James or even thought that she might marry someday. Taking up the threads of her old profession helps her to root herself back into the person she was before tragedy struck her life. She is keen to hunt down the truth, and to befuddle the agents of the British Secret Service who are tailing her, seemingly at the request of her father-in-law and for her own good.

Maisie has never had much truck with people who attempt to do things for her supposed own good, especially when they neglect to consult her about what that good might be. But she still feels herded and manipulated at every turn.

With good reason – the Secret Service is attempting to herd her towards a conclusion of their making. In the end, Maisie understands much, but does not completely condone their reasoning.

And at last she finds a purpose that she can believe in again for herself. So she gives everyone the slip and returns to a profession in which she can do the greatest good, and hopefully find her way back to a self that can carry on.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, A Dangerous Place gave me a lot of mixed feelings. That being said, I still love Maisie herself and I remain very interested in her journey.

However, I found the way that the author dealt with the tumultuous years between Leaving Everything Most Loved and A Dangerous Place left me feeling a bit short-changed. While I realize that the Maisie Dobbs series is mostly about Maisie’s cases and not about Maisie’s love life, events that cause so many profound changes and her and her circumstances deserve more than a few letters.

I would love to have seen a book where Maisie solves a case in Canada during the time of her marriage that allowed the author to cover the tragedies and still tell a Maisie story. I like Maisie and wanted to be there for her and with her. I say this fully recognizing that this is the author’s series and not mine and that it is up to her to write the books her way. But I missed the sense of following along with Maisie during those four eventful years.

And because we weren’t with Maisie, we see her grief at second hand, instead of being in there with her. She talks about it and feels it (and occasionally takes morphine for it) but we are standing outside it and wondering when she is going to pick herself and get on with things. Because the Maisie we know and often love is a person who gets on with things no matter what.

The circumstances in Gibraltar are incredibly murky. History tells us that the Spanish Civil War was a proxy war for the Great Powers before the start of World War II. And even though we know that Britain’s policy in the Chamberlain years was to appease Nazi Germany at all costs, it is hard to see those costs being weighed up in lives lost and villages destroyed.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The bombing of the Spanish/Basque village of Guernica that drives so many people to action in the story was immortalized in a famous painting by Pablo Picasso, also titled Guernica. The world tour of the painting brought the attention of the world to the Spanish Civil War, just as the action itself brings the war home to so many people in the story.

But Maisie spends a lot of the time in A Dangerous Place muddled and confused. While taking on Sebastian Babayoff’s case brings her out of herself and out of her depression, she has a difficult time picking her way through the loose threads and the dangling red herrings placed in her way by the British Secret Service. Her confusion becomes ours, and in the end Babayoff himself is lost. We have come to expect more from Maisie.

The ending of the case is not satisfying. The ends have been forced to justify the means by the exigencies of an empire that is fading. What does satisfy is the way that Maisie takes charge of her own life at the end, even if she has to run away again in order to achieve it.

I am looking forward to more of Maisie’s adventures. Now that the Secret Service has her fixed in their sights, I expect her to do some very interesting and hush hush work for the Government in the impending war.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman + Giveaway

love and treasure by ayelet waldmanFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 449 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Date Released: April 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.

My Review:

I loved the first two sections of Love & Treasure, which pretty much embody the two words in the title. Part 1 is Treasure, Part 2 is Love.

However, there was a part 3, and it felt like it broke the narrative flow of the story. Not that it wasn’t good on it’s own, but that the entire book could have ended with part 2, and I’d have been content.

Not making sense? Let’s try it this way.

Part 1 of Love & Treasure is about the finding of the treasure. It’s a story bound up with World War II, the confiscated property of Jews who were deported, and one American Jewish soldier stationed in Salzburg at the end of the war, watching the looting of the artifacts of an entire community.

The Hungarian Gold Train really existed. Hungary was captured by the Nazis in 1944. The Jewish population was shipped off to concentration camps by the colluding Hungarian government. When it looked like Hungary was going to be liberated by the Allied forces in 1945, all that confiscated loot was put on a train bound for Germany.

The train was captured by U.S. troops, and that’s where the story begins. Captain Jack Wiseman is put in charge of inventorying the collection, and he finds himself forced to watch as his superior officers systematically loot the property in order to furnish their occupation headquarters all over Europe.

In history, none of the property was ever returned to its owners or their descendants. In the story, Jack takes one small piece as a memento; a peacock necklace. On his deathbed, he asks his granddaughter to find someone to whom that necklace rightfully belongs (or at least more rightfully than himself). He wants to give her a quest, and to assuage some of his own guilt. But it’s mostly about taking care of her, one last time.

The second part of the story is Natalie’s quest to find a person who is connected with the necklace. Her journey puts her in the path of the slightly shady art dealer, Amitai Sasho. Amitai usually finds people who are heirs to concentration camp victims, and locates treasure owned by their dead ancestor. Then he brokers a deal where the art gets sold, and everyone involved gets a piece of the pie, especially his firm. There’s nothing illegal about the operation, but it is just a bit grey.

That peacock necklace features prominently in a painting by an relatively unknown Hungarian artist. Amitai is obsessed with finding, not the necklace, but the lost painting. Natalie is driven to fulfill her promise to her grandfather.

Tracking down the provenance of the necklace brings Amitai and Natalie close enough to discover that what they have really both been searching for is each other. Finding the painting is just a bonus. Admittedly a very big bonus.

Escape Rating B+: There turn out to be three stories here; the original provenance of the peacock necklace, Jack’s service in Salzburg and conditions among the general population and particularly the DPs (Displaced Persons) and finally his granddaughter Natalie’s search for someone connected with that original provenance.

While it was interesting seeing the story of the necklace before it ended up on the train, and finding out how the original owners used it as a present back and forth, that story was told at the end, and it lost dramatic tension. It felt like it should have been at the beginning, but it wasn’t nearly as dynamic a story as Jack’s or Natalie’s. YMMV.

Jack’s story has the most meat to it. He’s conflicted at watching the assets of the train get bureaucratically looted, and he feels torn between his identity as a Jew and his service as a soldier. He knows what’s happening isn’t right, but he’s powerless to stop it. The problems that he can at least contribute to solving are the continued deprivations of and depredations on the Jewish DPs stuck in Salzburg. By doing the right thing, he becomes involved with a Hungarian DP, Ilona. He’s never sure what their relationship is, and whether she is using him or really cares. Through his involvement with her, we also see the political machinations of Zionists who will use any means necessary to force the British to open up Palestine. (Historically, we know where this ended up).

Natalie’s story provides closure, but it occurs in the middle. Jack is the past, and Natalie is the future. Her willingness to search everywhere and do anything to settle his ghosts gets the story involved with Amitai’s mercenary repatriation efforts. And with Amitai, who is a slightly shady character that finds a way out into the light.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.


Ayelet is giving away a print copy of Love & Treasure to one lucky U.S. winner.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.