This is the end, my friend…

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Loris Leveen

Another book club book–by a Portland author, whom I shall get to meet at the next group meeting in September. (I’m ahead on my reading, for once.) It’s a novel based on a true story–well, I’m inclined to say inspired by a true story because it takes an awful lot of dramatic license with events that we can’t possibly know anything about. But who’s quibbling? Well, I can quibble here because I will not be comfy doing so in the presence of the author. It’s about a black woman who was freed from slavery but voluntarily went back to the South during the Civil War and posed as a slave so she could spy for the Union army. Ain’t that a pip? That’s the true part; Mary Bowser was a real person and she did spy from within Jefferson Davis’s very own house. The rest is a lot of augmentation, requiring some willing suspension of disbelief for the sake of the narrative. I enjoyed reading it. I was anxious to see what happened next even though I already knew how the war ended. The part of the book where Mary lives as a free woman in Philadelphia was especially interesting to me because of its portrayal of the black community in the North, where black people were free and had rights but still faced white racism and discrimination. The book has sort of an old-fashioned feel–it reminded me of Little Women–but it definitely has a modern sensibility. (Mary Bowser is quite the feminist heroine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) You can see the fine line Leveen is walking as a white lady telling a black woman’s story. Some plot points are convenient, and the ending was a little too precious for my taste, but overall I quite liked the book. It’s perfectly appropriate for younger readers, too. (Not young like six, but middle school or older.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I believe I once said that I had absolutely no interest in reading this book. With a name like that, you’re either hopelessly intrigued or hopelessly put off. I was put off. But once again, book club forces me to do things I never would have done otherwise. (I belong to two book clubs, which explains how many books I read for book club.) So I started from a less than enthusiastic place. So unenthusiastic that I read the first eleven pages and thought, “I really, really don’t want to be reading this.” But then I got the Guernsey fever. (That’s what I decided to call it. “I got a fever and the only cure is more potato peel!”) It’s an epistolary novel, which is off-putting enough, but it manages to tell a story despite that. It’s about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. The Guernsey characters are all interesting and lovable. The writer who communicates with them I sometimes found a little annoying. Actually, it disturbed me that I found her so annoying because she’s one of those ironic, insecure types, so I wondered if there might be a little self-loathing going on here or am I actually that annoying too? Anyway, it hooked me, and I liked it. (Wayne, wherever you are, forgive me.)

Honor Bound by C.J. Archer

After all that book clubby and literary stuff I was really hurting for some cheap Kindle trash, and once again Kindle did not disappoint. A romance novel about a woman in Elizabethan England who is estranged from the husband she loves because her mother-in-law forced her to abandon him by threatening to tell him she was a witch. The wife, not the mother-in-law. I mean, the wife is a real witch; the mother-in-law is only a figurative one. Anyway, how does one say no? (Well, I know how, but you know me.) This book is silly silly silly silly. So silly. Maybe the silliest thing I have ever read. Even the sex was silly. But I have to be honest: I liked it. This is Book #1 in the Witchblade Chronicles. Would I read #2? Sure. But I might not pay for it.

They’re Watching by Greg Hurwitz

This is the best suspense novel I have read in a very long time. As I have blogged before, I tend not to enjoy the work of male authors in this genre. It’s a little bigotry I have in me. I’m not proud of it, but I recognize it and select my titles accordingly. But the premise of this book intrigued me and–say it with me–it was cheap on the Kindle, so I took a chance and I’m very glad I did. I liked this book a lot. I would have paid full price for it in retrospect, but I choose to think I love it even more because I did not. The protagonist is a failed screenwriter–recently fired from his first movie, which was supposed to be his big break–who starts receiving DVDs with surveillance footage of himself. It’s all very mysterious–who’s watching him and why? What do they want from him. There are so many plot twists in this book and just when I thought it couldn’t possibly twist again, I found myself saying, “HOLY CRAP!” Just like that, out loud, with no one else there to listen. At the first glimpse of the villain’s motives, I did think to myself, “Really? Dude, that’s lame.” But I kept reading because I didn’t care how lame it was, the story was too exciting. And then by the end I no longer thought it was that lame. Implausible, yes, but what do you want? It’s a book. Anyway. My addiction to cheap Kindle books is hereby vindicated. Read this book and tell me it wasn’t awesome. I DARE YOU.

Well, that concludes this edition of Mad’s Book Club. Tune in next time, when I shall report on more crap that I have read. Meanwhile, what should I read next?