The Quest for Home – Virtual Book Launch

Yesterday I re-blogged Jacqui Murray’s post about Prehistoric Fiction. Today it’s her new release taking centre stage.

Driven from her home. Stalked by enemies. Now her closest ally may be a traitor.

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

Book information:

Title and author: The Quest for Home by Jacqui Murray

Series: Book 2 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Available at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU

Jacqui answers some Questions

1.       How did early man tell time?

Early man didn’t care about hours or minutes. What drove him was how much sunlight remained before he must return to wherever he would be sleeping that night (maybe a cave, a cliff wall, or behind a thistle barrier). As a result, they indicated time in the future by pointing to a place in the sky where the sun would eventually reach. He might say, “Return by this point” to mean, “Return when Sun reaches this point in the sky.”

2.      What does a ‘hand of Sun’s travel’ mean?

A ‘hand’ quantifies the amount of time it takes Sun to travel the distance of a hand held up to the sky. A finger would be about fifteen minutes and an hour about four fingers, or a hand. This is one of the ways the earliest People measured the passage of time. Test it yourself. Hold a finger up next to the Sun. It will take about fifteen minutes for the Sun to reach the far side of your finger.

3.      Why are these characters so violent?

The answer to this question is simple: They had to be. If Homo erectus hadn’t been violent 850,000 years ago, he—and we as a species—wouldn’t have survived. Man wasn’t yet the apex predator. Our skin was too thin, claws too short, and teeth useless for defense. What we did have that those who preyed on us didn’t was a thoughtful brain (well, the beginnings of one).

Jacqui will be visiting blogs September 16th-30th to chat about The Quest for Home. Some of the questions she’ll cover:

  1. How do you know these people are as smart as they seem?
  2. Their speech is too sophisticated.
  3. Convince me they can communicate as well as it sounds like they do with just gestures, hands, and facial movements.
  4. Could primitive man build rafts as suggested in this story?
  5. Was there really a giant upright primate like Giganto (Zvi’s friend)?
  6. What does ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ side mean?
  7. How did early man tell time?
  8. What does a ‘hand of Sun’s travel’ mean?
  9. Why are these characters so violent?
  10. I am not reading these books in order. Does it matter?
  11. Could Xhosa (the main character of The Quest for Home) really have traveled with a wolf companion?
  12. The Quest for Home hints at a spiritual side to man. Is that accurate?
  13. This is part of a series. What’s that about?
  14. How does the trilogy Dawn of Humanity tie into the trilogy Crossroads?
  15. What’s the relationship between Xhosa (and Homo erectus) and animals?
  16. What one characteristic would you say allowed Xhosa to survive in a world populated with Sabretooth cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

The schedule from September 16th-30th of who Jacqui will visit and the question number (from the list above) she’ll answer are here:

https://worddreams.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/qfh-book-launch/

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page:        https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                       https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                             https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                                http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                                http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                                   http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                                 https://jacquimurray.net

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Northern shore of what we now call the Mediterranean Sea

Pain came first, pulsing through her body like cactus spines. When she moved her head, it exploded. Flat on her back and lying as still as possible, Xhosa blindly clawed for her neck sack with the healing plants. Her shoulder screamed and she froze, gasping.

How can anything hurt that much?

She cracked one eye, slowly. The bright sun filled the sky, almost straight over her head.

And how did I sleep so long?

Fractured memories hit her—the raging storm, death, and helplessness, unconnected pieces that made no sense. Overshadowing it was a visceral sense of tragedy that made her shake so violently she hugged her chest despite the searing pain. After it passed, she pushed up on her arms and shook her head to shed the twigs and grit that clung to her long hair. Fire burned through her shoulders, up her neck and down her arms, but less than before. She ignored it.

A shadow blocked Sun’s glare replaced by dark worried eyes that relaxed when hers caught his.

“Nightshade.” Relief washed over her and she tried to smile. Somehow, with him here, everything would work out.

Her Lead Warrior leaned forward. Dripping water pooled at her side, smelling of salt, rotten vegetation, mud, and blood.

“You are alright, Leader Xhosa,” he motioned, hands erratic. Her People communicated with a rich collection of grunts, sounds, gestures, facial expressions, and arm movements, all augmented with whistles, hoots, howls, and chirps.

“Yes,” but her answer came out low and scratchy, the beat inside her chest noisy as it tried to burst through her skin. Tears filled her eyes, not from pain but happiness that Nightshade was here, exactly where she needed him. His face, the one that brought fear to those who might attack the People and devastation to those who did, projected fear.

She cocked her head and motioned, “You?”

Deep bruises marred swaths of Nightshade’s handsome physique, as though he had been pummeled by rocks.  An angry gash pulsed at the top of his leg. His strong upper arm wept from a fresh wound, its raw redness extending up his stout neck, over his stubbled cheek, and into his thick hair. Cuts and tears shredded his hands.

“I am fine,” and he fell silent. Why would he say more? He protected the People, not whined about injuries.

When she fumbled again for her neck sack, he reached in and handed her the plant she needed, a root tipped with white bulbs. She chewed as Nightshade scanned the surroundings, never pausing anywhere long, always coming back to her.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. Sweltering heat hammered down, sucking up the last of the rain that had collected in puddles on the shore. Xhosa’s protective animal skin was torn into shreds but what bothered her was she couldn’t remember how she got here.

“Nightshade, what happened?”

Her memories were a blur—terrified screams and flashes of people flying through the air, some drowning, others clinging desperately to bits of wood.

Nightshade motioned, slowly, “The storm—it hit us with a fury, the rain as heavy and fierce as a waterfall.”

A memory surfaced. Hawk, the powerful leader of the Hawk People, one arm clutching someone as the other clawed at the wet sand, dragging himself up the beach.

He was alive!

It was Hawk who offered her People a home when they had none, after more than a Moon of fleeing for their lives through lands so desolate, she didn’t know how anyone survived. Finding Hawk and his People, she thought she’d found a new homeland.

Her last hunt with Hawk flashed through her mind—the stone tip they created like the Big Head’s weapon, how she had hung by her ankles from a tree trunk to cross a deep ravine. How he grinned when she reached the other side, chest heaving but radiant with satisfaction. He told her many of his warriors shook with fear as they crossed. His pride in her that day glowed like flames at night.

For the first time in her life, she felt Sun’s warmth inside of her.

She looked around, saw quiet groups huddled together, males talking and females grooming children. Pan-do bent over a child, whispering something in her ear but no Hawk.

Where is he? But she didn’t ask Nightshade. The last time she’d seen the two together, they had fought.

She couldn’t imagine a world without Hawk. They had planned to pairmate, combine their groups into one so strong no one could ever again drive her away. She hadn’t known there were enemies worse than Big Heads until Hawk told her about the Ice Mountain invaders. They attacked Hawk’s People long before Xhosa arrived. Hawk had killed most and chased the rest back to their home, icy white cliffs that extended from Sun’s waking place to its sleeping nest, bereft of plants and animals. When he saw where they lived, he understood why they wanted his land.

The children of those dead invaders grew up and wanted revenge.

Someone moaned. She jerked to find who needed help and realized it was her. She hoped Nightshade didn’t hear.

He glanced at her and then away. “All the rafts were destroyed.”

She shook, trying to dislodge the spider webs in her brain. Hawk’s homebase was squashed between a vast stretch of open land and an uncrossable pond. They should have been safe but the Ice Mountain invaders attacked in a massive horde. Her People—and Hawk’s—were driven into the water. The rafts became their only escape. Floating on a log platform to the middle of a pond too deep to walk across was something no one had ever done but they must or die. The plan was the rafts would carry the People to safety, away from the Invaders.

That hadn’t worked.

“There were too many enemy warriors, Xhosa,” and Nightshade opened and closed his hands over and over to show her. “More than I have ever seen in one place.”

Images of warclubs slashed through her thoughts, flying spears, the howls of warriors in battle. Many died, beaten until they stopped moving, children dragged screaming from mothers. The giant female—Zvi—sprinting faster than Xhosa thought someone her size could, the children El-ga and Gadi in her arms, a spear bouncing off her back. Her size stunned the enemy, immobilized them for a breath which gave Zvi the time she needed to reach safety.

Almost to himself, Nightshade motioned, “I’ve never seen him this brave.”

Xhosa didn’t understand. “Him?” Did he mean Zvi?

“Pan-do. His warriors attacked. They saved us.” Nightshade locked onto the figure of Pan-do as he wandered among the bedraggled groups, settling by an elder with a gash across his chest and began to minister to the wound. 

“I remember,” Xhosa murmured. When the People were trapped between the trees and the water, prey waiting to be picked off, Pan-do’s warriors pounced. That gave Xhosa precious time to push the rafts out onto the water. It seemed none of the enemy knew how to swim. Pan-do sliced through the Ice Mountain invaders without fear, never giving ground.

Nightshade motioned, “He isn’t the same Leader who arrived at our homebase, desperate for protection, his People defeated.”

Xhosa’s hands suddenly felt clammy. “Is Lyta alive?”

Since the death of his pairmate, before Xhosa met him, Pan-do’s world revolved around his daughter, Lyta. He became Leader of his People to protect her. When he arrived at the People’s homebase, Lyta stood out, unusual in an otherwise homogenous group. First, it was her haunting beauty, as though she shined from within, her hair as radiant as Sun. Awe turned to shock when she walked, her gait awkward on malformed feet. She should have been destroyed as a child but Pan-do said he had never considered it. He explained that in Moons of migration, before joining Xhosa’s People, Lyta had never slowed them down. He didn’t expect that to change if the two groups traveled together.

And then she spoke. Her voice was like bird’s song and a gift to People exhausted from the day’s work. It cheered up worried adults and put smiles on the faces of children, its melodic beauty convincing them that everything would work out.

It was more than a Moon after his arrival before Pan-do told Xhosa what he valued most about his daughter. Lyta could see truth simply by watching. No one could hide a lie from her, and she never hid it from her father. Pan-do kept it secret because the people it threatened might try to silence her. He only told Xhosa because Lyta had witnessed a conversation about a plan to kill Xhosa.

One of the people Lyta didn’t recognize but the other, he was someone Xhosa trusted.

When Nightshade nodded, Yes, Lyta lives, Xhosa relaxed but only for a moment.

“Sa-mo-ke?”

Nightshade nodded toward a group of warriors. In the middle, eyes alert and hands energetic, stood Sa-mo-ke.

She sighed with relief. Pan-do’s Lead Warrior was also Nightshade’s greatest supporter outside of the People. When he first arrived, Sa-mo-ke spent Moons mimicking her Lead Warrior’s fighting techniques until his skill became almost as formidable as Nightshade’s with one critical difference. While Nightshade liked killing, Sa-mo-ke did so only when necessary.

Nightshade motioned, “Escape came at a tremendous cost, Xhosa. Many died, the rafts were destroyed, and we are now stranded in an unfamiliar land filled with nameless threats.”

It doesn’t matter, she whispered to herself. We are good at migrating.

She jerked her head around, and then motioned, “Where’s Spirit?”

The loyal wolf had lived with people his entire life. He proved himself often while hunting, defending his packmates, and being a good friend. An image flitted across her mind, Spirit streaking toward the rafts, thrusting his formidable body like a spear through the shocked hordes. The enemy had never seen an animal treat People as pack. Then, the wolf swimming, paws churning the water into whitecaps, gaze locked onto Seeker. Endless Pond was too deep for him to touch the bottom so his head bobbed up and down, feet paddling like a duck’s as he fought to stay above the surface.

Nightshade gestured, “The attackers almost killed Spirit.”

She bit her lip, concentrating. “I remember Mammoth’s trumpets.”

The rare hint of a smile creased his mouth. “Another of Pan-do’s tricks. It saved Spirit and probably all of us. He brayed like a herd of Mammoth thundering toward the shoreline. The invaders fled for their lives.”

Pan-do is clever.

Nightshade grimaced. “But the storm worsened and the rafts foundered. Many of the People managed to cling to logs long enough to crash onto this shore. Then, they saved others. But many died.”

He opened and closed his hands to show how many.

A stillness descended as Nightshade’s gaze filled with a raw emotion he never showed. It shook Xhosa. Nothing frightened her Lead Warrior.

She gulped which hurt her insides. Shallow breaths worked better. Rolling to her hands and knees, she stood which made her head swim and she threw up.

Finally, the dizziness subsided and Xhosa asked, “Hawk?”

Nightshade peered around, hands fidgeting. He examined something on the ground, toed it with his foot. “When the tempest destroyed the rafts, he dragged many to shore, to safety. The last time, he did not return. I tried to find him.”

Soundless tears dampened her face. Nightshade touched her but Xhosa focused on a trail of ants and a worm burrowing into the soft earth. Her vision dimmed and she stumbled, fell, and then crawled, happy for the pain that took her mind off Hawk. When she forced herself up, everything blurred but she inhaled, slowly, and again, until she could finally see clearly.

How dare Hawk die! We had plans. Xhosa shoved those thoughts away. Later was soon enough to deal with them.

“His People—do they know?”

Night Witch – a review

I’m catching up with my book reviews – by not reading but writing. Anyway, I’m still ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35 with a few part-finished books in the read-line. And after this, I’ll only be four book reviews behind – if I ignore the backlog from 2018 and earlier.

So, on to the Thursday Creation Review for today/tomorrow – a novel that continued my interest in Soviet airwomen in World War II. My research is ongoing and there are two more ‘Night Witches’ novels in my reading pile.

Night Witch

by S.J. McCormack

Farm girl to aviator in the heroic WWII Russian flying unit the Germans called the Night Witches… 

JUNE 1941 Nineteen-year old Raisa Tarasova’s peaceful life shatters when Hitler’s forces invade Russia. Her two brothers immediately enlist in the air corps. Despite Raisa’s desire to fly and her many hours of flying time, neither the air corps nor her father would allow such a thing. She is, after all, “just a girl.” 

In September Raisa returns to her engineering studies at the university in Moscow. Once there, she jumps at the opportunity to join a newly formed women’s aviation unit. Wearing men’s uniforms hurriedly cut down to fit, Raisa and 300 other female recruits are loaded into railcars and transported to a training base. 

After six hard months of schooling, Raisa is assigned as a navigator with the all-women Night Bomber Regiment. 
Their aircraft is the PO-2, a biplane made of wood and fabric. Months later, after a night of heavy losses, Raisa is given a field promotion and the new responsibility of pilot. She has no choice but to carry out her orders and face down a most significant enemy…her own fear. 

Courage, an impossible romance, and a daring rescue only a woman would devise become part of Raisa’s new life as a member of the 588th Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, the NIGHT WITCHES.

Review 4.3 stars

This was the second novel I’ve read about a young woman who risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female Soviet night bomber regiment that wreaked havoc on the invading Germans in World War II.

Echoing the real friendships forged amid the harsh struggle to survive a gritty and vicious war – the terrible conflict known to the Soviets as the Great Patriotic War – this was a crafted story built around good research.

Nineteen-year old Raisa Tarasova’s peaceful life and engineering studies are shattered when Hitler’s forces invade Russia. But unlike her brothers, she cannot join the air corps despite her many hours of flying time – she’s a girl. However, when a women’s aviation unit is formed, she joins up with 300 other recruits.

After six hard months of schooling, Raisa is assigned as a navigator with the all-women 588th Night Bomber Regiment, which flies the PO-2, a biplane made of wood and fabric. Comrades die, leading to a field promotion to pilot – and a daring rescue at the expense of everything, including a burgeoning romance.

The build-up from peace to war pulls the reader in, giving the ideal amount of backstory. The author paints a clever contrast between everyday normality and the encroaching storm of war. The invasion triggers an increase of pace, although the female recruits are not rushed to the front – unlike men such as Raisa’s brothers.

From the training into the combat, the reader is enveloped in the realism of flying and the social interaction between the young women – and with the male aircrew. There is enough detail to ground the story, but not so much that the pace struggles. Events, especially at the front, are traumatic but some are humorous.

S.J. McCormack did her research, judging from my reading of a newly-published non-fiction book on Soviet airwomen I own. The author lists her sources, and these include ones I’ve heard of.

Only one thing concerned me. SPOILER ALERT

I knew Stalin imposed strict orders that if you surrendered or were captured by the enemy – or even just ended up behind enemy lines – you were a traitor. So, when Raisa is shot down on the German side of the front, I wondered how she could ever return to her regiment safely.

END ALERT.

The resolution the author devised for the climax was ingenious, strengthened the story – and had me diving down research rabbit holes and nodding, grin on my face.

The characters all felt rounded, especially Raisa with all her complexities and central fear. Plus, her pilot-friend who everyone admires, and who inspires Raisa throughout the story is a strong role. Even the secondary characters seemed real, from her love-interest to the girl with the cow.

The settings worked as background to the story and characters, even if nothing came alive either as distinctive or as a distraction. But the locations worked neatly into the whole structure. Although there were no WOW-twists, the inventive ending had me ‘heading home’ with Raisa, nodding in agreement.

An enjoyable read and recommended for anyone who likes entertaining WWII historical fiction.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film – a review

Life has thrown up more diversions – okay, my weak will did. I still intend posting a Thursday Creation Review every week – as originally planned. Well at least until my five outstanding reviews are written – three crime, one historical and one historical-fantasy. I’m hesitating over adding my review of the TV series Good Omens until I’ve read the book.

Anyway, today – a day late – it’s a non-fiction writing guide up for review:

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film

by Lucy V. Hay

We’re living in a time of unprecedented diversity in produced media content, with more LGBT characters. more characters of color, more disabled characters, and more characters from various religions or classes. These characters also appear in genre pieces, accessible to the mainstream, instead of being hidden away in so-called “worthier” pieces, as in the past. This book discusses issues of race, disability, sexuality and transgender people with specific reference to characterization in movies, TV, and novel writing. Using such examples as the film Mad Max: Fury Road and the novel Gone Girl, the book explores how character role function really works. It discusses such questions as the difference between stereotype and archetype, why “trope” does not mean what Twitter and Tumblr think it means, how the burden of casting affects both box office and audience perception, and why diversity is not about agendas, buzzwords or being “politically correct.” It also goes into what authenticity truly means, and why research is so important; why variety is key in ensuring true diversity in characterization; and what agents, publishers, producers, filmmakers and commissioners are looking for—and why.

 Review 5 stars

This timely and excellent book was everything I’ve needed especially since attempting to write a novel about a queer Welsh detective and her Tamil partner. (There are days when I feel totally out of my experience zone.)

This is essential reading for any serious writer – especially one aware of the value in addressing the ‘diverse issue’. It was full of invaluable advice and information for me – a WASP, albeit one with Latin blood and in a wheelchair.

Lucy Hay has researched the hot issue of ‘diversity’ for many years. She has become a prolific advocate of diverse characters in all areas of fiction as a writer, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her www.bang2write.com consultancy, which I follow. This book builds on her knowledge and suggests how writers can embrace the thorny topic – “as long as they do it justice” with “due diligence”

That ‘due diligence’ means recognising where the debate is going, the mistakes and progress, how to ensure diverse characters function effectively – and not as stereotypes – plus, the potential and the pitfalls. Hay provides a wealth of observations, suggestions and links with which writers can develop their own craft. Many assets are provided to inform those that are serious about ensuring they tread wisely.

These range from a definition of ‘diversity’, and the myths surrounding it, to examples from modern movies and novels to explain aspects of how to handle ‘diversity’ – and how not to. All Hay’s thoughts provide food for further discussion and research.

I’m still learning and researching the best approach to diversifying my plots. This book has great insights that will help me as a writer as I progress into this complex area. Many of my characters are not ‘diverse’ like my leads, but there are techniques that Hay provides which will help them stand out as unique as well.

This book is timely and important so a guide that will be a stalwart on my desk as I now have both Kindle and paperback versions.

Utility – five stars

Content – five stars

Topicality – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Readability – five stars

Structure – five stars

Editing – five stars

Marred – a review

I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing.

Lies, all lies: I keep getting distracted and wasting time with trivial pursuits. I’ve switched off my Kindle and shelved my next physical reads.

So, I’ve forced myself back to proper keyboard work. Maybe the reviews will get written now – and the Audible reads get caught up.

However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35. So, I might make that target.

As for the other challenge, this will be my tenth Cloak and Dagger review of 2019; with three more to review. I should end up reading the 5-15 books that earn ‘Amateur sleuth’ title. The next grade matches my Welsh policewoman: 16-25 books – Detective. I have three more mystery/suspense/thriller/crime novels on my desk and more on my Kindle and Audible.

But I have ‘shelved’ books in other genres like historical, fantasy/SF, and alternative history. My other three outstanding reviews are one historical and one historical-fantasy – plus, a non-fiction writing guide.

So, back to the review:

Marred

(Grafton County #1)

By Sue Coletta

When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. 

Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller torments Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent
women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Review 4.4 stars

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I follow the author’s blog on crime. This was my genre and it’s a well-written and crafted novel. But I’m not sure I can take more graphic details though – even with the promise of corvids in the rest of the Grafton County series.

However, there was so much excellent elements that stood out and swept me along – most of the time.

The characters were memorable and complex. At the novel’s heart, bestselling author, Sage Quintano, who is living with the painful memories and secrets from three years earlier when a serial killer broke into her home. A past that drives her to resolve things for herself and to keep things from her husband.

Not easy when her husband, Niko is a homicide detective and Grafton County Sheriff. So, when a strange caller threatens her, she doesn’t tell Niko everything – enough to disturb me as the caller made rules about who to tell. I asked, ‘Will he ignore them too?’

Anyway, with a sadistic psychopath preying on innocent women, Niko has his own concerns – as do his team. The investigation with its clever introduction of forensics explores the evidence and the other officers.

The dynamic between the deputies is realistic, especially as promotion is at stake. I was rooting for Frankie, despite her ability to rub people up the wrong way. She was my kind of detective and I wanted more of her.

But we get more bodies marred in horrific ways instead. And more graphic detail which to me felt excessive. But that’s me and most readers will lap it up. It’s realistic and Sue Coletta’s knowledge of forensics and pathology is outstanding – and why I follow her blog.

It makes for a rollercoaster read, but I get scared on some rides and even in bloody movies. The other extreme from cringe cute cozies.

Back to Niko with all his problems – a sadistic psychopath, competing deputies, and Sage…

Despite his troubles, my reaction was, ‘Why are men so difficult?’ – we struggle to multi-task unlike women. I understood his frustration but wished he could do some lateral thinking.

Unlike Sage who joins the dots between the caller and the psychopath. And now, he has her twin sister, Chloe. Sage gets a clue to Chloe’s location and, as all mystery writers do, follows down the rabbit hole. But why? Distracted Sheriff husband? Her own secrets? The killer’s rules perhaps?

But I hesitated from reading on – like that moment in the horror movie when the teenager wanders off. Who was braver Sage or me? I eventually had to keep reading.

And the plot twists kept coming – in ways I never saw coming. The tension builds. The resolution and revelation of the psychopath are unexpected – and ingenious.

There is so much to look forward to in the ongoing Grafton County series with superb characters to savour. So, I would recommend this novel from an author that researches crime meticulously – even if I felt too swamped to tackle more gore for now.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

The Alice Network – a review

It’s frustrating as I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing. However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 21 books now read from my target of 35.

As for reviews, this follows my review of The Huntress – my belated introduction to the brilliant Kate Quinn. I still have six more outstanding reviews as I finished reading another novel as I wrote that last review.

Oh well, I’m further behind reading emails so can’t panic – yet. So, onto the review.

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn 

Narrated by: Saskia Maarleveld 

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women – a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 – are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. 

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose. 

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads.

Review 5 stars

I bought the Audible version of ‘The Alice Network’ after reading Kate Quinn’s ‘The Huntress’ so knew I had to read more by this talented writer.

I was not disappointed. We weren’t…

My wife and I listened transfixed, not wanting to pause the excellent narration or the flow of crafted words. Kate Quinn at her best and deserving many more stars.

From the tantalising opening in 1947 with pregnant, unmarried, American college girl Charlie St. Clair remembering her beloved cousin Rose, we were pulled into this intricately crafted tale that spans two World Wars. Rose disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, but the key might be Eve Gardiner, who is haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network of secret agents, thirty years earlier during WWI.

Eve was sent into enemy-occupied France and was trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies,” who uses the pseudonym of Alice Dubois – hence the network’s name. Her story and her memories of that period are woven into the ongoing story once Eve and Rose meet – well, a clash of opposites…experiences versus youthful recklessness. A clash that needs to be resolved.

After the betrayal during WWI, Eve escaped into drink, but in1947, Charlie persuades her – mentioning a significant name, René Bordelon – to embark on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads. During that journey, we gradually discover more about Charlie’s relationship with Rose, and more about Eve as she recounts her traumatic career as a spy.

Two other characters play vital roles in that ‘present day’ story: Finn Kilgore, the Scotsman and ex-soldier who looks after Eve. The second character proves to be his Lagonda LG6 in which he drives Eve around and then in which he takes Eve and Charlie on their mission of discovery. Finn obsesses about the car, nurses it through its mechanical problems – but he is a mechanic and more. Plus, he is the second Scotsman in Eve’s life – the first, Captain Cameron recruited her as a secret agent.

How Eve’s relationship with Cameron is resolved parallels Charlie’s involvement with Finn. One of many parallels and contrasts between the two women that weave through the book. Not least René Bordelon, the antagonist that ties together all the evils of both wars – even if he attempts to justify himself.

René is as complex as the other main characters. Cultured or at least coveting the trappings he acquires or desires. His favourite poet – he quotes him obsessively – Baudelaire adds a clever twist in what Lili calls her spies. A phrase echoed by Eve.

“Fleurs du mal,” Eve heard herself saying, and shivered.

“What?”

“Baudelaire. We are not flowers to be plucked and shielded, Captain. We are flowers who flourish in evil.”

Lili is another complex character and Eve’s mentor, friend and confidante. Lili, whose real name is revealed as Louise de Bettignies, was an actual person as was her Alice Network. This true-life story is skilfully told from Eve’s point of view and impacts on the unfolding novel, changing lives over time.

On first meeting Eve – through Charlie’s eyes – she doesn’t appear to be anything like the young determined woman who becomes a spy in 1915. In other novels, I would suspect not – and there have been great examples of switched identities. But not here. Kate Quinn shows how and why the young Eve became the embittered drunk – and yet there are plenty of glimmers of the young Eve under the surface.

Thus, I understood her brief appearance in ‘The Huntress’ – although I hadn’t known who she was.

 “She used to do something unbelievably vague in British intelligence, and people like that are rather good at observing things.”

However, I will say no more about such meetings. There are so many tragic twists as the tale unfolds and I won’t spoil them. Just believe me when I say this story is brilliant – great writing and excellent narration.

Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, this Audible version was an engaging listen. Saskia is able to make every character distinctive – helped by the first-class writing. She brings emotion and pacing to her narration that earns her five stars. Now we’ve finished listening to ‘The Alice Network’, we will listen to the author’s excellent ‘The Huntress’ as they share the same superb narrator.

Five-star recommend doesn’t do ‘The Alice Network’ justice. So, I’m handing the last few sentences to a talented author whose research is meticulous.

“Clearly, women in active fighting zones unsettled their contemporaries, but they still left a legacy behind. Girls of the ’30s and ’40s joined the SOE to train as spies against the Nazis because they had been inspired by books and stories about women like Louise de Bettignies—and they weren’t inspired by her feminine graces. They were inspired by her courage, her toughness, and her unflinching drive, just as I imagined Charlie being inspired by Eve’s. Such women were fleurs du mal indeed—with steel, with endurance, and with flair, they thrived in evil and inspired others in doing so.”


― Kate Quinn talking about The Alice Network

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars

And if you are interested to read more about The Alice Network: https://www.readinggroupguides.com/reviews/the-alice-network

AND

https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_alice_network_links2.html

And for the real Louise de Bettignies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_de_Bettignies

The Huntress – a review

I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing. However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 20 books read from my target of 35.

As for reviews, this will be my ninth Cloak and Dagger review of 2019; with two more to review. Plus, four more outstanding reviews outside the genre.

This may not be trad-crime, but this novel did feel like a thriller to me – with war crimes from the opening page.

The Huntress

by Kate Quinn

From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, THE ALICE NETWORK, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted… 

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth.

Review 5 stars

From this novel’s opening with the Huntress deciding to move into the shadows, I was engrossed in the story, the characters, settings, the history and Kate Quinn’s writing.

I was in awe of the writing throughout and discovered another wonderful author to follow. I could see everything unfold as we were introduced to the main players. The novel is told through the senses of three POVs – if you don’t count that brief tempting glimpse into the head of the Huntress in the Prologue.

First, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride who’s determined to become a photographer post-WWII and is inspired by the likes of Margaret Bourke-White – one of my heroines. She is pleased when her widowed father, who owns a Boston antiques shop, forms a relationship with Austrian widow Annelise Weber – but she is also suspicious. Suspicions that are heightened and dismissed or disproved but stirred up again.

Then, in 1950s West Germany, the reader meets British war correspondent Ian Graham who has become a Nazi hunter, aided by Tony Rodomovky, a ‘Yank’ with Polish-Hungarian blood. But other people want to move on from focusing on Nazi crimes, especially the judges – the focus has shifted onto the ‘Commies’. However, for Ian, finding the elusive Huntress is personal – a reveal not rushed by the author.

Finally, we are in harsh and remote Siberia, where my favourite character, Nina Markova needs to escape her father. Facing tough prospects if she remains, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment that wreaked havoc on the invading Germans. Friendships and more are forged amid a terrible struggle to survive a gritty and vicious war.

The research for this character was impressive and I applaud Kate Quinn’s ability to blend fact with an emotional and riveting story. The focus is on the regiment, but Stalin’s cruel regime lurks in the shadows. Nina must manoeuvre between the two despotic forces and carve out a life – with a razor in her oversize boots.

This book, those remarkable aviators, and this character propelled me down a ‘Night Witches rabbit hole’ – and added to my reading list.

The three lives/plotlines gradually weave together, with their different timelines merging. The author doesn’t rush this process but crafts it with domino-events that build. I loved the use of drip reveals. Especially as to how Nina encounters Ian and Tony. Only one of those men is a Russian speaker, and that is a tasty device – one that had me re-reading parts of the book with a grin while writing this review.

The novel uses its various settings from Siberia to Massachusetts to enhance the action and the characters. For instance, lakes play a central role for all three main characters. And to the Huntress whose haven was Lake Rusalka in Poland.

But which of the well-portrayed characters will prove to be the rusalka – a lethal, malevolent water spirit? They are all intricate in their traits and their backstories, yet there are no road-hump info dumps.

The detail was balanced, whether about the main or supporting cast. There was even a brief appearance by a character from ‘The Alice Network’ – although I hadn’t read Kate Quinn’s previous novel at the time. But I nodded when I met her again.

Anyway, the plotlines in ‘The Huntress’ merge, building towards a confrontation that could go different ways – depending on how the complexity of the personalities impacts on events. Revenge can depend on experiences, on abilities. As can justice. So, what can happen and will it? A memorable ending is set up with care. Maybe, there was a dip before that point, and I wanted a faster resolution. Or was I sharing the frustration of being a Nazi hunter? Or do characters need spaces to build their futures?

In summary, I enjoyed the clever plotlines, the complex characters, significant settings, excellent research and writing style so much I want more

A book that’s hard to forget – not that I want to. In fact, I look forward to listening to the Audible version – now I’ve finished listening to the author’s equally engrossing ‘The Alice Network’ and they share a superb narrator.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars