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Monday, October 24, 2022

Two books featuring strong women at a crossroads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

The leaves are turning, the weather is cooler, it’s getting dark out earlier, and now we have more time to stay inside and read. This month’s Book Report features two books about strong women facing difficult times in their lives.

Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope WWII mysteries is one of the few series I will always read, and her latest book, Mother Daughter Traitor Spy is a fantastic standalone novel. The last Maggie Hope novel, The Hollywood Spy, had Maggie in WWII Los Angeles, where she tangled with Nazis. Mother Daughter Traitor Spy tells the story of Veronica and her mother Violet during WWII. 

When Veronica makes a bad personal choice, she loses her job in New York, and she and her widowed mother move to Los Angeles, closer to her uncle. Veronica unintentionally finds herself as secretary for someone who is heavily involved in the Nazi movement in the United States.

Meanwhile, Violet's lovely embroidery catches the eye of a Nazi leader's wife, and soon she is designing and sewing clothes for many of the women's friends. Horrified by the things they are hearing, Veronica and her mother go to law enforcement and end up working as spies for the US military.

I found myself wanting to know more about this time period in Los Angeles after reading The Hollywood Spy, and was so pleased to see that Susan Elia MacNeal was continuing to tell us more about this intriguing time in history in Mother Daughter Traitor Spy, based on the lives of a real mother-daughter team.

As I read this terrific story, I could not help but see the connections between what was happening politically in the 1940s and what is happening in our country in the last few years, and that adds to the importance of this book. I didn’t realize how many followers the Nazi had in America prior to and during WWII, it was eye-opening and honestly frightening. Mother Daughter Traitor Spy is a must-read for historical fiction fans.

Another author whose work I never miss is Anne Leigh Parrish. Her previous novels (Our Love Will Light the World, The Amendment and A Winter Night) dealt with families living in the Finger Lakes region in contemporary settings.

Her latest novel, An Open Door, is an historical novel set in the aftermath of WWII. When we meet Edith she is a young woman working at the United Nations in New York City, and married to Walt who is studying to be a lawyer and living in Boston. 

Edith enjoys her freedom working in New York and living with her husband's widowed aunt. Many people question why a married woman would choose to live and work in a different city than her husband, including her husband who pressures Edith to return to Boston.

After having watched her mother being stifled by her marriage to Edith’s overbearing father, she did not want to live a similar life. When she returns to Boston, Edith intends to continues her PhD studies in literature, but women at that time were discouraged from such a higher level of education. She saw that “the problem was what the world expected women to be, which was always less than a man.”

Unhappy in her marriage and with her life in general, Edith “wished that knowing where you didn’t belong meant knowing where you did.” When an opportunity to buy the neighborhood bookstore (along with two other people comes along), she sees this as a chance to do something more meaningful and fulfilling with her life. Edith’s life begins to revolve around the bookstore, and as someone who works in a bookstore, I so enjoyed reading about the joys, and the trials and tribulations of owning a bookstore.

No one writes characters better than Anne Leigh Parrish, and Edith is no exception. Parrish takes the reader into the heart and head of her characters so brilliantly that we relate and understand them, even when they do things with which we disagree. Edith is not perfect, and she does things that people will find objectionable.

Parrish writes so beautifully, I found myself returning time and again to her words, like this quote from her mother- “One thing I’ve learned is that kind people love kindly; careless people love carelessly; cruel people love cruelly.” She always gives her readers something deep to ponder.  I give An Open Door my highest recommendation.

Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal- A

Published by Bantam

Hardcover, $28, 336 pages

An Open Door by Anne Leigh Parrish- A+

Published by Unsolicited Press

Trade paperback, $17/ Kindle $6.99, 267 pages

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