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

Black Dove, White Raven – a review

After choosing Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity as my top read in 2018, I have read – well, listened to two more of her novels on Audible. I was not disappointed.

After listening to The Pearl Thief, I moved on to another Elizabeth Wein novel – historical but not a mystery in the strict sense. I’m also reading her non-fiction account of Russian airwomen in WWII – A Thousand Sisters.

But let’s head to Ethiopia.

Black Dove, White Raven

By Elizabeth E. Wein

A story of survival, subterfuge, espionage, and identity.

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Review 4.4 stars

After I was bowled over by the brilliance of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, I had to read another of Wein’s novels – and was not disappointed. Black Dove, White Raven was another enjoyable tale, sympathetically narrated by Lauren Saunders and Maanuv Thiara.

Flying is a major thread to the novel and the author captures that – not surprising for a writer with a private pilot’s licence; and I’m already engrossed in her non-fiction book about Soviet airwomen in WWII.

However, at the heart of the story is the unfolding lives of best friends, Em and Teo brought up together after Teo’s mother Delia dies when the plane their stunt pilot mothers – Black Dove & White Raven – were flying crashes. Em’s mother Rhoda survives and takes the children to Ethiopia away from the prejudice of 1930s America. Delia dreamt of going to the country as Teo’s late father was from there.

Weing vividly portrays the attitudes towards a white woman with her own white daughter and an adopted black son in the USA and in Ethiopia. The latter might seem more accepting but has other issues being addressed – an added challenge for Rhoda and Em’s Quaker upbringing – and the reader is confronted with these through the eyes of the kids as they become teens.

The children adopt their mother’s stunt names for the characters in the stories they create. These fantasy tales become the basis of their diaries which form the structure of the novel, alternating from Em to Teo and back. When they start to fly as passengers then pilots, the POVs take on the form of flight logs as well as diary entries. But they are never dry, instead each adds to the characterisation of the siblings.

Wein cleverly weaves other details into these accounts, so the reader/listener learns about Ethiopia as Rhoda and her family do. I knew a bit about the country and its history, but this novel added to my knowledge – the author does comprehensive research for her novels.

Alongside Em and Teo, the reader is given a complex portrait of Rhoda, who must adapt to raising her late friend’s son alongside her daughter in a new country with fresh challenges. Rhoda is forced to juggle everything to keep the family together and safe. The supporting characters, from the Ethiopians on the coffee farm and in the towns to the Italians like Em’s father, are well portrayed.

While Em discovers her background early in her life, she doesn’t meet her Italian father until she is older. Teo is also confronted with his Ethiopian parentage as the family unravels the mystery of the country – and the ties to the man his uncle works for. This discovery adds tension and intrigue that keeps the tale moving. Although Teo finds some resolution, the ending left me wanting more answered.

But this is the brink of the Second World War, so everything is becoming uncertain. Perhaps there will be a sequel with Em and Teo.

Ethiopia was one of the tragic prequels to WWII. Everyone is becoming aware of the Italian military on the borders. Mussolini has ambitions. Fascism is on the rise and war seems inevitable. This impacts on the lives of Rhoda, the teens and the people around them.

Which side will Rhoda choose? Has she a choice? Can the under-dogs soar above the war? The author paints a contrast between the relative idylls of the early years in Ethiopia and the country and lives torn about by the conflict. However, relative idylls as there are hints and future tensions in those quieter years.

Black Dove, White Raven was not up there with Code Name Verity as there are moments where the tension dips, and the tale drags. In part perhaps because of the diary approach, in part from having two calendars – the Gregorian and the Ethiopian one – for every chapter, and from the extended timeline – linear and tied to real events. And the ending left unanswered questions.

But still this earns four stars and was a good listen. On to another engrossing Wein book.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – four stars

The Frame-Up – a review

Today, I intended to review a book from my backlog – six are left from March-May – but I read faster than I write.

Rather than add another book to my backlog and forget its essence, here’s my thoughts fresh from my head.

The Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1)

by Meghan Scott Molin

By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

Review 4.4 stars

The blurb sparked my interest – even if my comic reading days are behind me; well, some months I gaze at one on my Kindle. I still find room for geek culture so in that respect I was not disappointed. In fact, I was nodding my head throughout, smiling at the references to superheroes and shows I knew.

Some I didn’t, but no matter as the plot kept me reading and wanting super-reveals. MG was amusingly quirky, and her detective distraction, the cute but tough Matteo Kildaire, was not the dumb policeman of too many cozy mysteries.

I’ve stopped reading cozies for that reason – reckless sleuths and stupid police. This was different – even though MG had a reckless streak to her sleuthing. But she made up in other aspects – and Matteo gave her the justification – as far as MG was concerned. The police need her to resolve a crime with possible comic connections – golden arrows.

However, MG can be irritating in her willingness to trust some people not others – when she has made specific observations. Avoiding a spoiler so just saying.

The supporting roles are a mix of fun characters, questionable colleagues, and shadowy suspects. Who will the real superhero prove to be? Who is the supervillain that could be one step ahead of MG and Matteo?

Someone that knows more about comics than Matteo?

Detective Kildaire has some amusing encounters with the Geekdom that MG inhabits, from a Sorting Hat to a Star Wars movie marathon – building a world around a culture that comes over as well-portrayed. Add in the wonderful drag queen who might or might not be The Golden Arrow and the plotline shimmers. That superhero/vigilante identity kept me wondering. Who can pull this off?

The Comic Con and costumes climax is neatly worked in – all the right seeds sown. Satisfying ending to a fun novel that earns four stars plus.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

Montbel – a review

One day I will catch up with reviewing the books I read over the last few months. Anyway, here’s a review of the third Jacques Forêt mystery, Montbel. This was on the target list for my 2019 challenges, and has counted towards my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– and it’s my seventh Cloak and Dagger read of 2019; with two more to review.

Montbel

by

Angela Wren (Goodreads Author)

A clear-cut case? A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary.

After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued. When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the case. Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

The Jacques Forêt mystery series: 
Messandrierre
Merle
Montbel

Review 4.4 stars

This was another intriguing case for Jacques Forêt with a plot that involved chefs and identities, clouded by family intrigue.

It was great to be back in the Cevennes with Jacques, Beth and co. I savoured the familiarity of the setting and the characters, despite the speed at which I devoured the pages. At 178 pages, this was always going to be a fast read, and the dual plots ensured I was wanting more.

Hence, also the brevity of this review.

One plot even builds on the previous book Merle. Plus, Beth, as a photographer gets her own leads to follow – her own mystery to solve – while proving indispensable to Jacques with his investigation. Their romance adds to the novel in a satisfying way.

As before, the French elements imbue the storylines and makes for a rich atmosphere.

One plot ends with a cliff-hanger, and I missed having a resolution. In a way, that sets up the next anticipated book. Jacques and Beth are such memorable characters, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

A fun read, although short – so, four stars plus.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

I Am the Chosen King – a review

Over the next two or three weeks, I intend to review the seven books read in recent months. Some of these were on my list for my 2019 challenges, and all have counted towards my 2019 Goodreads Challenge.

First is a novel I won in a giveaway on the author’s website that I follow. As it is a thick book, I had some difficulty carrying it around in my old wheelchair. But over time, I found a solution and read the novel.

I Am the Chosen King

(Saxon #1)

by

Helen Hollick

Original Title when published in the UK: Harold the King

In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.

Review 5 stars

This beautifully written novel was well worth spending time reading. In summary, I loved all the details and characters. Although I already opposed the Normans, Helen Hollick turned me into a fan of Harold Godwinesson. But I’ve never liked William the Conqueror – even when I discovered the Normans had Norse ancestors. The novel felt well-researched.

On a superficial level and the one I learnt at school decades ago, the story is straightforward. But the reality and the twists, intrigues and rivalry as it unfolds is complex. Helen Hollick captures all the nuances and fills in history’s gaps convincingly.

The settings in England and Normandy evoked a sense of what the 11th century was possibly like. Some of the places I glimpsed from my own travels. For instance, London and its environs were very different and yet the descriptions triggered images and memories in my imagination. I lived for a few years near Waltham Abbey, so could picture it as it was.

One negative could be the portrayal of the original Britons – the Welsh. Were the Welsh worse than other peoples around that period? Ruling England is a tough job, but does it mean all one’s enemies are violent savages? Or is that my Welsh bias?

Anyways, the Godwinesson family take centre stage, led by Harold’s influential father, Earl Godwin. Early on there are indications that sibling rivalry is inevitable, and as the story unfolds it becomes more intense leading to the fatal actions of one brother, Tostig. How the role of other family members weaves into this is well-portrayed and justified.

Then there is royal intrigue. Again, inevitable given the characters, a reluctant King, his powerful mother – Emma, Queen and wife of the late Cnut the Great – and then Harold’s politically astute father. Emma, who is the protagonist of Hollick’s next book in the series, The Forever Queen – chronologically a prequel – is reluctant to let her son, Edward rule as if he’s weak. But this ‘confessor’ is distracted by spiritual matters – until he tastes power.

I’m not going to accuse the author of treating her characters as black and white as others have. They take sides and few of them waver. Even the despicable William has his moments of introspection. So, the characters felt realistic, reacting and creating events. Some lived dangerously, wanting what others had and failing – or in William’s case succeeding.

Emma must teach Harold’s ambitious sister Edith about her duties as Queen when she marries Edward, becoming the next Queen of England. And what does power do when petty sibling rivalry plays its role? Hollick weaves that rivalry into the historical facts, and the tale unfolds as it did in 1066. Fortunately, Harold’s hand-fast wife, Edith Swanneck rises above this rivalry, and their love endures even when he has to marry another in the eyes of the church – another relationship well-portrayed.

When Edward dies and Harold is chosen as the King of England, other claimants emerge inevitably. One is Duke William of Normandy. Historically he claimed both Edward and Harold had promised him the crown, but the records are questionable enough for the writer to expand on the facts and give Harold justification for accepting the crown himself.

Result – invasions north and south. The pace builds as the ending unfolds that most English know from school. So, we know what happens in this timeline. Tostig creates tension and trouble with his Norwegian allies. And as made clear in the scenes of him securing his dukedom, William never gives up. History can’t be changed.

Damn that Norman bastard.

The tension of those final days gripped me as I marched up and down England. Hollick had me praying for an English victory. ‘What if’ kept playing through her words. But this wasn’t the clever alternative history collection, 1066 Turned Upside Down which Hollick contributed to. This was the actual year 1066 but crafted brilliantly and enjoyably.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

#WRiTECLUBDFW – WRiTE CLUB 2019


Although I’m struggling through the Blogging from A to Z tail end/aftermath, I’m about to follow  WRiTE CLUB 2019.

Just what is WRiTE Club? In short, it “started off as a modest competition loosely derived from the movie FIGHT CLUB, and from there it has grown into a writing community sensation…”

Here’s the link for all the details: https://www.dlhammons.com/p/write-club-2019.html 

Monday April 29th is the start of the competition and hard work/thought for us reader-followers:

WRiTE CLUB Calendar

“Over the course of the next eight weeks, we’ll hold daily bouts (M-F) right here on this blog – randomly pitting the anonymous 500-word writing samples against each other. The winners of these bouts advance into elimination rounds, and then playoffs, quarter-finals, and then ultimately a face-off between two finalists to determine a single champion.”

There were a record-breaking 189 WRiTE Club entries from 137 writers!  They received writing samples from writers around the globe that represent 40+ different genres and sub-genres. The twenty clever and avid slush pile readers have narrowed the entries down to the 30 contestants for the daily bouts.

Now it’s our turn. Anyone who visits the WRiTE Club blog during the contest can vote for the sample that resonates with them the most – leaving a critique to help writers hone their craft.

Plus, the readers can win too – if we vote. If you check out all the cool prizes at https://www.dlhammons.com/p/write-club-2019.html  you will find all the rules, prizes and links.

So, if you are tempted to read and vote for some great pieces of short writing, visit  WRiTE CLUB 2019 from Monday April 2019. You might even pick the WRITE CLUB Champion or be a reader/voter winner.