Throughout the Winter break, my Inbox has been flooded with emails wishing me seasonal greetings, reflecting on the year/decade ending, or plotting the future.
Feeling inundated and overwhelmed, do I dare add to the navel gazing – oops, discussion?
I need to scratch one large itch, so apologies.
My year in books was frustrating, after I started 2019 with great determination. I committed to reading 35 books for the Goodreads Challenge – not as many as some years – and 16-25 mystery/suspense/thriller/crime for the Cloak & Dagger Challenge.
But I failed both Challenges.
For the 2019 Goodreads Challenge, I only read 28 out of my intended 35 books. Only 14 of these were ‘crime’- three more than 2018, but not enough to make me more than an ‘Amateur Sleuth’.
I had a mid-year reading/review crisis. I was unable to keep up with my reviews, so stopped reading. That didn’t resolve the review problem and instead created a reading backlog/logjam. At least seven books are screaming for reviews, not counting ones from previous years.
I have other excuses/alibis.
My Kindle Fire frustrates me. When I switch the power on, it takes ages to load – often re-organising its files – dissuading me from reading. Paperbacks win on that score – and others. Yes, I can store so many more with the Kindle. But that means more books unread. I wanted to delete some books – samples etc – but that’s near impossible on my model.
Audible: simpler as I don’t need to turn pages or struggle with my failing eyes, and I get swept into other worlds by great narrators. Is that why two of my five star reads were five stars – The Alice Network and The Pearl Thief? However, the downside is my tendency to fall asleep, not because of the book, but because of my fatigue.
MS fatigue is one of the side-effects of my chronic illness. I fear MS and old age are more than excuses.
Let’s put excuses aside and be positive. I’m setting my sights lower in 2020.
For the Goodreads Challenge, I’ve decided that 30 books in 2020 is a realistic target. I already seem to be ‘currently reading’ eight books: three with Audible, one on Kindle, three paperbacks and one hardback. Doesn’t that look like a good start for the year?
Deceptive fog, I fear. Two of those are research books that I dip in and out of. One is a factual grind which will never get finished. The Kindle read is proving disappointing so slow. And one of the Audible books is proving a hard listen.
Does another reading-review wreckage loom? Not if I persevere.
I’m veering back to old-fashioned paper books – there are plenty on my desk to read. I will persist with Audible as my eyes will welcome that – if I can evade the fatigue.
As for the Cloak & Dagger Challenge, I have eleven of my 2019 ‘crime’ reads remaining – plus, my TBR list has a few more from the genre. Another Amateur Sleuth?
My book of 2019? A five-star read that was magical. A story that resonated with me – wolves, Russia, revolution, adventure, and the wolves. Plus, prose that was masterful. An encounter with middle-grade reading with unexpected but amazing results.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.”
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
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
In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the
consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice
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
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.
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
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.