A Legacy of Spies

The other year, in preparation for a novel I hoped would have more intrigue and action than I was used to writing, I decided to break with my comfort zone and read a few spy novels to deconstruct the genre and see how the action was set up and paced. I’d read a James Bond novel once and was less than impressed; the movies I loved so much were horribly dull novels, and the book-Bond looked much more like Truman Capote than any pretty-boy actor.

I didn’t want to waste time, so I Googled “best spy novels”, and one of the top two on almost every list was John LeCarré’s 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, so that was the one I read first.

The lists were right. The book was brilliant, and I couldn’t put it down. After that I rushed out to watch the 2012 BBC film version, an incredible cast including Toby Jones, Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, and more – which was still excellent, though some people prefer the 1979 mini-series adaption with Alec Guinness (that’s Obi Wan Kenobi to some of you). The strangest part was that, while reading the book, I had already cast Toby Jones in one of the roles in my head  –  but as Peter Guillam, though, not Percy Alleline as he was in the film.

Why so good? Well, see – like Ian Fleming, John LeCarré (real name: David Cornwell; spies aren’t allowed to use their real names to publish novels) was an actual British spy in World War II, so he knows the ins and outs and tiny little details of how the game is played, layers upon layers of secrets and trades and double-dealings. He’s lived it first hand, and that makes all the believable difference. He began writing novels in 1961 (Call for the Dead), but it wasn’t until his third novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, that he hit the best-seller list and wound up quitting MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service) to pursue writing full time.

While all of us sit here and think, why would you quit being an awesome spy to write books?

But LeCarré certainly is good at it, with more than 24 novels to his name, almost all of them best-sellers. Several have been made into successful film adaptions, including The Constant Gardener (2005), starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) starring Richard Burton, and the recent delicious adaption of The Night Manager (2016), starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, a book that reads more like a James Bond adaption than a Bond novel does.

Unable to sit still in retirement, LeCarré, now 86, has pumped out yet another novel last year, A Legacy of Spies, a conclusion of sorts for George Smiley’s people, his ex-agent who keeps coming back. Pulling his best-loved characters from so many of his novels, LeCarré manages to weave them together with new characters in present-day, finding new depths and bringing new truths to light, even after 50 years. LeCarré shows that time has not diminished him nor his characters, and if you think you know how it will end, like all of his works, it’s pretty well guaranteed you don’t.

Give le Carré a try. If you like mystery, espionage, intrigue, and unraveling puzzles with characters who won’t let you go, then you’ll love his work. If you haven’t tried him, he’s a wonderful place to begin to explore the genre. For modern novels, he’s rather clean, without a lot of graphic violence or sex or language, perhaps making the stories even more remarkable. Start with Legacy of Spies and work backward, or start at the beginning and work forward. If you prefer to watch rather than read, there are more than ten films, five television adaptions, and four radio plays to keep you entertained. You’ll be so glad you did.

The Story Behind Draw a Bird Day

2015-04-09 18.27.16In 1943, Dorie Cooper was a 7 year old living in England. Her mother took her to a hospital to visit her uncle who was wounded in the war. While they were there, Dorie’s uncle was very distraught, having lost his right leg to a land mine. In an attempt to cheer him up, she asked him “Draw a bird for me, please.” Even though he was unwell, he decided to do as Dorie asked. He looked out his window and drew a picture of a robin.

On April 7, 2015 the director of the Cheshire Library put a piece of paper into everyone’s mailbox. The page was blank except for one sentence across the top: Wednesday, April 8th is “Draw a Picture of a Bird Day” followed by the line: Here is my picture of a 2015-04-09 18.25.46bird.2015-04-09 18.25.57

What fun, I thought and took my paper home to plan a drawing for the next day. On April 8th when I arrived at work, several staff had created bird drawings. There were all types from simple line drawings to colorful sketches. Owls, doves, robins, swans, and hummingbirds found their way onto the wall of our staff room.

After seeing her uncle’s bird picture, Dorie laughed out loud and proclaimed that he was not a very good 2015-04-09 18.26.34artist, but that she would hang the picture in her room nonetheless. Her uncle’s spirits were lifted by his niece’s complete honesty and acceptance. Several other wounded soldiers also had their day brightened by the event and every time Dorie came to visit thereafter, they held drawing contests to see who could produce the best bird pictures. Within several months, the entire ward’s walls were decorated by bird drawings.

2015-04-09 18.26.12The next evening, as I was standing there looking at the pictures, I became curious about the source of Draw a Bird Day. So, I did some research and discovered the Draw a Bird Day website. I read with interest about Dorie and her uncle. And then came the third paragraph.

3 years later, Dorie was killed after being struck by a car. At her funeral, her coffin was filled with bird images that had been made by soldiers, nurses and doctors from the ward where her uncle had been. Ever since then, those men and women remembered the little girl who brought hope to the ward by drawing birds on her birthday, April 8th.
2015-04-09 18.26.25

I was stunned. Dorie, the girl who had loved bird drawings, died at age ten? That was not the way I was expecting the tale to end. And then I read a little further.

Draw a Bird Day was never declared an official holiday, but it grew through those soldiers and medical personnel and their families. Today, it is celebrated world wide as a way to express joy in the very simplest of things in life.

2015-04-09 18.26.07I went back into the staff room and looked at the bird drawings again. I had enjoyed making my drawing and viewing the drawings of my coworkers. It had lifted my spirits to make that picture and to see the creativity of the people I worked with. It had, in fact, the same effect that it had in that hospital ward all those years ago.

2015-04-07 16.45.35Seventy-two years after a little girl asked her uncle to draw her a bird, people all over the world are still drawing birds on her birthday. Still celebrating hope and happiness. Still celebrating joy in the simple. Still sharing the fun.

Would you like to learn how to draw a bird? Try these titles:

Drawing Birds     Colored Pencil     Laws guide


Linda Reads: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a poignant, beautifully written book that takes us back in history to France during World War II.

The book starts off in present day and the story is told by an elderly woman facing a move into a nursing home to face her last battle, cancer.  But first, she has something she must do.

The story follows two sisters, Viann and Isabelle Rossignol, who have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle’s father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it’s not only the sisters’ relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

Ms. Hannah writes heartfelt, vivid descriptions taking great care with every detail.  You will be transported to wartime France.  You will feel all the pain, joy, love, and hardships of the Rossignol family and those who interact with them.  I read the book in one sitting, unable to put it down and the story still lingers with me a month later.  It earned a spot on my top ten favorite books list.

If you liked the book, will you like the movie?


Some very popular books have recently come out as movies and are generating a lot of positive buzz.

wildWild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

The movie stars Reese Witherspoon (and is also Producer) as Cheryl Strayed and Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi.  It is rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language.  It is mostly faithful to the book and critics say Reese delivered the performance of her life and was nominated for a Golden Globe and Oscar.  Laura Dern was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The movie is rated R.


unbrokenUnbroken: A World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – Relates the story of a U.S. airman who survived when his bomber crashed into the sea during World War II, spent forty-seven days adrift in the ocean before being rescued by the Japanese Navy, and was held as a prisoner until the end of the war.

The movie is most notably directed by Angelina Jolie.  It has won the American Film Festival top ten film of the year.  Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis Zamperini, has won two awards – Hollywood Film Award for Actor and National Board of Review Award for breakthrough actor.  The movie is rated PG-13.


stillStill Alice by Lisa Genova – Feeling at the top of her game when she is suddenly diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Harvard psychologist Alice Howland struggles to find meaning and purpose in her life as her concept of self gradually slips away.  The movie stars Julianne Moore as Alice who recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress.  She also won Best Actress with several other associations including The Chicago Film Critics and Hollywood Film Awards and has been nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress.  Alec Baldwin stars as the husband, John.  The movie is rated PG-13.american


American Sniper by Chris Kyle – A member of Navy SEAL Team 3 describes his life as a father and husband, and as the serviceman with the most confirmed sniper kills in the history of the United States military while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Bradley Cooper has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Chris Kyle.  The movie has also been nominated for Best Picture.  The movie is rated R.


If you’ve read the book, will you go see the movie?  Let us know what you think of the movie.  Did it capture the essence of the book, or was it a disappointment?  If you liked the movie, will you read the book?  Which did you like better?  We want to know!





Linda reads : The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs has written more than 40 novels and she has another winner with The Apple OrchardThis is the first book in a new series.

The reader is introduced to the world of an auction house provenance specialist.  This is a person who finds lost heirlooms – jewelry, china, pottery, artwork – authenticates it, and returns it to its rightful owner or auctions it for the owner.  It is a fascinating line of work and the character of Tess Delaney adds her own family history to this intriguing novel.

Tess knows nothing about her father, and her mother was pretty much absent in her life.  She was raised by a grandmother who died when Tess was in her teens.  She enjoys the process of researching a family’s history in order to track down the heirlooms because she has no family history of her own.   Her life in San Francisco is going well, with a big promotion in the works and lots of friends.  But things turn upside down when banker Domenic Rossi comes calling to tell her a grandfather she never knew she had is in a coma and that his will has named her to receive half of his estate, with the other half going to a sister she didn’t know she had.  Tess takes a leave of absence to visit the estate – Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard located in the Sonoma Valley town of Archangel.

The story takes place in present day, but the reader is taken back to World War II and the occupation of Denmark through flashbacks to learn about Tess’s grandfather and, ultimately, the father Tess never knew.  Tess’s half sister is a wonderful cook and each of the book’s ten parts starts with a recipe that incorporates apples, wine, or a dish from the region.  The orchard is in danger of foreclosure and Tess is uncomfortable with her new found family and the situation and is determined to return to her job.  But she didn’t count on falling in love with the estate, new family, the lifestyle and the banker.  She learns to enjoy the simple pleasures of food and family, nature, and all the new experiences she has encountered.  She finally learns that she indeed has a family history that is rich in tradition, loyalty, and love.

This is an insightful family drama that is well-written.  Ms. Wiggs does an outstanding job of intertwining the present and the past.  The reader is immersed in beautiful settings with lush descriptions and vivid details.  The characters are complex, captivating and vibrant.  It’s a very enjoyable book about love and family with fascinating historic details and beautiful romances.