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    Book Club in a Bag

    Staff Picks: Espionage

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    Welcome to another edition of Staff Picks—we’re excited to have some new contributers in the Readers’ Nook today! Staff picks are always popular; really, who doesn’t like getting a personal reading recommendation? Whether you like your spies fictional or true to life, you can be confident in trying any of these hand-picked books!

    Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre

    This book was recommended by Maylin Scott of Random House of Canada during the “Dewey Divas” presentation for Spring/Summer 2012. The book talk and review for Double Cross was so well done that I had to put my hands on it. An admirer of spy fiction of the likes of Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle, Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, and Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, this time round, I chose to pick up this Non Fiction true spy story with permutations of war and the intricately interwoven network of World War II spies, who formed the Double Cross British espionage system.

    Double Cross was an enthralling read, a stunning display of military accomplishment and a masterpiece of trickery. The story is encountered and told from the perspective of the key individuals in the Double Cross System: its director (a brilliant, urbane intelligence officer), a colorful assortment of MI5 handlers (as well as their counterparts in Nazi intelligence), and the five spies who formed the Double Cross’s nucleus. The key to the plan is to deceive and to throw off the Germans and launch an assault at Normandy on June 6th 1944 by convincing them that the impending attack would come either at Pas de Calais or in Norway. The game plan was one of careful manipulation of information on the part of the five double agents, each feeding misinformation back to their German handlers.

    - Kadija


    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

    This Young Adult novel is set during World War II and tells the story of two young women, ‘Verity’ and Maddie. The book begins in the words of 'Verity', a British spy who has been captured in Nazi-occupied France after the plane transporting her crashes. She has decided to give up the details of her mission in the hopes that her captors will grant her lighter torture and a delayed death sentence. As 'Verity' begins to reveal these details, she tells us her story and the story of her friend Maddie, the pilot of the plane that crashed. Her narrative reveals the remarkable friendship formed by two young women in one of the dark periods of the world’s history; it is also a narrative that isn’t always what it seems.

    What particularly struck me about this book were its historical setting—it’s great for anyone who likes historical fiction—its strong, smart writing, and its beautiful depiction of a friendship. It’s a book that would appeal to both teens and adults, but it’s not a book for someone looking for a quick, light read. It’s a book that will make you laugh, gasp, think, and cry.

    - Robyn


    More spy/World War II stories:

    The Spymasters by W. E. B. Griffin

    Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

    Off the Shelf: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    A few years ago I cruised along the Rhine-Danube waterway, visiting beautifully restored medieval towns. At the time I said they were probably made prettier for the tourist trade than they had ever been in reality. For a more realistic view, read The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch.

    The fictional town of Schongau smells of dung and slops. Our mild hero, Simon, hates to get his fashionable attire splashed by mud and by what people toss out their upstairs windows. His father became a doctor by roughly attending to wounded soldiers during the Thirty Years War and is proud of sending Simon to be educated as a doctor. Unhappily for Simon, his father distains new-fangled ideas. He particularly hates that Simon consults the Hangman, Jakob.

    Every medieval town needed a hangman, who was socially ostracized and had to live apart from others. (I saw such a home, it was situated outside the town walls, but was nice enough.) Jakob is well versed in both torturing and healing; he is surreptitiously consulted by townspeople and collects expensive, newly published medical books.

    Martha, the midwife, is also sought out for her stock of herbs and potions that treat more complaints than pregnancies. When her practice of giving shelter to orphans is tainted by malevolent shadows, an accusation of murder by witchcraft hurtles her into the town’s dank jail, where the Hangman is called to do his duty – gaining truth through torture.

    However, Jakob is a contrary sort of fellow, and he knows that Martha is wholly innocent. As does Simon. As does Magdalena, the Hangman’s daughter. In Simon’s eyes Magdalena is delectable, with both brains and beauty. Sometimes in concert, and sometimes in conflict, the three problem-solvers seek clues and hypotheses to explain the children's murder to save Martha. Spoiling all their good work is the Devil, a being with a bone hand!

    Judith Umbach

    Conspiracy or... what? (Part II)

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    They were famous, beautiful and they died young: Marilyn Monroe was an iconic actress and the ultimate female sex-symbol of her time, and JFK was a charismatic, handsome US president, known for his thing for beautiful women. They had been in a relationship, and they died within 18 months of each other. Officially, she took a lethal dose of sleeping pills, and he was assassinated by a single gunman, but...

    Head shot: the science behind the JFK assassination by Paul G. Chambers

    After more than four decades and scores of books, documentaries, and films on the subject, what more can be said about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? A great deal, according to physicist and ballistics expert Dr. G. Paul Chambers.

    In this provocative, rigorously researched book, Chambers presents evidence and compelling arguments that will make you rethink the entire sequence of terrible events on that traumatic day in Dallas.

    Drawing on his fifteen years of experience as an experimental physicist for the US Navy, Chambers demonstrates that the commonly accepted view of the assassination is fundamentally flawed from a scientific perspective. The physics behind lone-gunmen theories is not only wrong, says Chambers, but frankly impossible.

    -from NoveList

    11/22/63 by Stephen King

    Like the similarly sprawling Under the Dome (2009), this novel was abandoned by King decades ago before he took another shot, and perhaps that accounts for both novels’ intoxicating, early-King bouquet of ambition and swagger. In this distant cousin to The Dead Zone (1979), Jake Epping is living a normal schoolteacher’s life when a short-order cook named Al introduces him to a time warp hidden in a diner pantry—leading directly to 11:58 a.m., September 9, 1958. Al’s dying of cancer, which means he needs a successor to carry out his grand mission: kill Lee Harvey Oswald so that the 1963 JFK assassination never happens. Jake takes the plunge and finds two things he never expected: true love and the fact that “the obdurate past” doesn’t want to change. The roadblocks King throws into Jake’s path are fairly ingenious—some of them are outright gut-punches—while history buffs will dig the upside-down travelogue of Oswald’s life...

    -from NoveList

    The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

    Bob Lee Swagger (Dead Zero) was 17 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but now he has the opportunity to find out what really happened that terrible day in Dallas. Though he's become a cranky old man, he remains a cunning, lethal adversary. When a woman claims that her husband was killed because he was writing a book about JFK, Swagger doesn't believe her. But when someone tries to kill Swagger using the same MO, the chase is on. Swagger investigates and realizes there might have been a second shooter, but who was he and why did he do it? VERDICT A fresh take on JFK's assassination makes for the ultimate thriller, and Hunter writes with great skill. Although maybe a little too meticulous and technical for many, it is still highly recommended for JFK fans, conspiracy theorists, and anybody who likes good writing and an engaging thriller.

    -from NoveList

    Marilyn's last words: her secret tapes and mysterious death by Matthew Smith

    Many prominent figures who investigated Marilyn Monroe’s death believed she was killed, though few went on record. From the forensic evidence suggesting she was drugged, to the massive discrepancies in the official reports, Smith sifts through thousands of documents, interviews and never-before-revealed confidential tapes Monroe made days before her death. Two suspects emerge: Robert and John F. Kennedy, and the CIA. Monroe had affairs with RFK and JFK, and Smith believes those liaisons led to her death… Smith's research is intriguing, but his reasoning specious. If the CIA wanted to implicate the Kennedys in murder, why make it look like suicide?

    -from NoveList

    So, conspiracies or what? You decide...

    Conspiracy or... what?

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    Did Jesus survive crucifixion? What happened to the famous Templar treasure? Did Marilyn Monroe overdose or was she killed? Why did the assassination of JFK provoke such an unprecedented public response that has never stopped challenging the official version of his death expounded in the Report of the Warren Commission?

    As we know, there are some real conspiracies, although, once proven, they might not be called ‘conspiracies’ (e. g. Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal). Some others – well, they seem more like gossip on a grand scale.

    Conspiracy theories tend to appear to make sense of things that are otherwise confusing, in a simple, good-against-evil way and they are presented as secret knowledge. Whether you believe in them or not, no one denies they can be entertaining reads…

    Take The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) for example, the mutual effort of a journalist, a novelist and a TV-writer to unveil one of the oldest (and still ongoing) conspiracies.

    Using their considerable media skills and talents, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln present us with an overwhelming amount of seemingly well-researched historical speculations, manipulating the evidence to fit their theories: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered several children. After the staged crucifixion the young family fled Palestine, ending up near Marseilles. Jesus' descendants founded the Merovingian dynasty, helped to lead several heretic movements, were the gray eminency of a long succession of secret societies, including the Knights Templars, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and, as Kirkus Reviews points out, "they are well and hard at work today in a shadowy French organization called the Prieuré de Sion--an offshoot of the Templars whose Grand Masters, believe it or not, included Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy, and Jean Cocteau..."

    And that is only the beginning. It turns out King Arthur's knights and many others were chasing rainbows, for the holy grail isn't a grail at all, it’s the best kept secret - hence all these secret societies, established with the sole purpose of guarding Jesus’ descendents. According to Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, the Holy Grail (Sangraal) is Jesus' royal blood (Sang Réal), brought to France in the person of his pregnant wife.

    And of course, the Vatican has known all about it, establishing its own secret orders and societies to keep out of public knowledge that Jesus was a man, a fact that can destroy the very foundations of the Church.

    Two decades later, Dan Brown will use the dubious facts of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail for his equally factually-unconvincing yet wildly popular novel The Da Vinci Code.

    Naturally, as soon as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was published, numerous scholars, Church experts and serious researchers set about pointing out false facts, half truths and convenient conclusions drawn from incorrect premises. The most interesting answer to this galimatias came in the form of a novel that has been, due to its complexity, read and appreciated only by a few: Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (1989), a masterful deconstruction of conspiracies, focusing not on the mystery itself but rather on its influence on the development of the protagonists. In a process of transformation from their skeptical to their diabolical selves, three editors, fascinated by an improbable conspiracy theory embracing all of European history, decide to investigate its possibilities, ultimately becoming the victims of their own creation.

    If conspiracies are your cup of tea, then we have a few more suggestions and plenty of books, both fiction and non-fiction, in our collection. You might want to try The Templar Legacy (2007) by Steve Berry (book 1 in the Cotton Malone series).

    The Knights Templar, a small monastic military order formed in the early 1100s to protect travelers to the Holy Land, eventually grew and became wealthy beyond imagination. In 1307, the French king, feeling jealous and greedy, killed off the Templars, and by 1311, the last master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. The whereabouts of the Templars' treasure--and their secrets--have been the subject of legend ever since. Like Dan Brown, Berry draws on the seminal nonfiction work Holy Blood, Holy Grail for many of his themes….

    -from NoveList

    The Magdalene Legacy: the Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy (2005) by Laurence Gardner

    A proponent of alternative and controversial religious and historical views, British author/lecturer Gardner continues to espouse the theories he presented in his 1996 UK best seller, Bloodline of the Holy Grail. He joins the ranks of those claiming Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children whose descendants are living today, including the Royal House of Stewart claimant Michael of Albany…

    -from NoveList

    Next time we'll present a few books related to some modern-day events that sent those prone to seeing conspiracies everywhere into overdrive...