Thursday, July 3, 2014

What I Read in May Part II

What I Read in May Part II

Violins of AutumnViolins of Autumn by Amy McAuley -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In the spring of 1944 France has been besieged by Nazis and the people are suffering. Everyone is waiting for D-Day to arrive and everyone needs to do their bit to help the Allies. Betty Sweeney, alias Adele Blanchard is about to do her bit. American born, European educated and British raised, she's ready for any adventure but her adventure is about to become frighteningly real as she prepares to enter enemy territory as a spy for the Special Operations Executive. She must become Adele completely and forget about Betty if she wants to live. With only two superiors and a radio operator, Betty lands in France to find not all goes as planned. She has to keep her wits and use all her training if she wants to survive. She finds enemies and friends can be found in unexpected places.

This book is a war story. It's violent and even disturbing at points. Don't expect a happy, fun. spy mystery. It's very realistic and depicts murder, gun violence and torture. The love triangle is clean and kisses only. I really liked the plot. It was so exciting I couldn't put it down. The story opens with a cliffhanger and you have to read the whole book to find out what happens. Adele's adventures are incredible and seem impossible. The violence bothered me a lot but I knew it wasn't going to be pretty going into the book based on the subject matter. I didn't like the present tense first-person narration because it limited the explanation of what was happening... "Germans are doing bad things to children" that's the understatement of the 20th century! For those who may not know, I think it needed a bit more explanation. It also lacked an author's note on the history behind the story. There are some unexpected plot twists that pop up here and there and some really obvious ones. I liked how the Germans are portrayed as both bad and good and even the Allies are shown doing bad things at the end. I liked that balance because too often in YA books the story is biased in one direction and the characters do things without understanding the consequences. I also liked the description of occupied France and the different locations the story takes us to. I really got a sense of what it felt like to be in occupied France during World War II. I only had a few plot quibbles namely the epilogue. What happens next?

Pigs Have WingsPigs Have Wings by P.G. Wodehouse --Historical Fiction/Romance

The same old story of lovesick young people and pigs, with a twist! This time the Empress has a rival! Sir Gregory Parsloe has imported a new pig for the Shropshire Agricultural Show. The Queen of Much Mathingham threatens to be even larger than the Empress! The Empress has lost a succession of her beloved pig men and is left with a girl who refers to her as a "piggy wiggy." Naturally Galahad smells a plot and is determined the Empress should win, by fair means or foul. There are also several other romantic plots to untangle in this classic Wodehouse story.

I still love the world of Blandings Castle. This would have been a 5 star read if it had included a screwball scene. There are plenty of laughs though and I found myself chuckling out loud late at night. The unholy alliance of Galahad and Beach are up to their old tricks, which are always amusing. Poor, long-suffering Beach has a lot to do in this story. Galahad goes a little more crazy than usual with the pig-conspiracy theories, but he is such a dear. He also helps direct the young lovers, who are basically doing fine on their own. Constance is an ever-present threat, though this time, the young lady in her care is not a relative, but an American girl named Penny Donaldson. Penny is the younger daughter of Donaldson's Dog Joy and is related by marriage to the Threepwoods. Penny's father doesn't approve of her suitor so Constance provides a new one in the form of a suitable, and suitably boring, Orlo, Lord Vosper. I liked Penny a lot. She's plucky and able to handle her own affairs with all the cunning Galahad could wish. Penny's lover, Gerald Vail, is a struggling writer in need of money. He doesn't have a lot of scenes and I found him pretty bland. His friend Gloria was once engaged to Penny's new suitor, but Gloria is now engaged to Sir Gregory Parsloe! Gloria is not a very likeable character. She's not supposed to be. She's a health nut, domineering and not very nice. Sir Gregory plays a larger role in this story and some of it is from his point-of-view. We get to know him better and I felt a little sorry for him. The new characters are rounded out by Maudie, a former barmaid turned private detective. She's a fun character and involved in her own love triangle. I tried to guess how it would turn out, but initially I was wrong. Finally, the two pigs are the primary characters. As usual, they made me laugh a lot. The Empress is such a dear pig and Lord Emsworth is so devoted to her. The Queen of M-M is also a delight, especially in the final scene when I laughed out loud. This story can be read as a stand-alone though it references characters and situations from past books. This is one of the best entries in the series and must read for Wodehouse fans.

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