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

Ten Minutes Past Teatime – a review


This is the first post written with my new ‘one-handed’ keyboard – well, smaller than my UK-bought one so easier to use when my left-hand cramps and claws. Just need to adapt to its idiosyncrasies.

On to my review of a short story that a writer I follow sent her subscribers.

Ten Minutes Past Teatime

by

Elizabeth Chatsworth (Goodreads Author)

Please note, this is a short story/novelette.

A Victorian spinster-scientist and a Viking shield-maiden find passion and danger in dark-age Ireland.

1896: Forty-three-year-old scientist Miss Minerva Minett is determined to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club. To win their annual membership competition, she invents a time-traveling submersible, and launches her vessel into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages. But when she sinks a Viking longship, accidentally joins a monastery raid, and falls into the arms of a grizzled shield-maiden, she discovers that time may not be on her side.

Review 4.3 stars

This entertaining steampunk short story had me amused and entertained as forty-three-year-old Victorian scientist Miss Minerva Minett attempted to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club, by launching her time-traveling submersible into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages.

From the amusing opening through her encounter with the grizzled shield-maiden, Alfhild to the twist at the end, I chuckled at the inventive mind of Minerva and her creator.

The experiments and inventions were as memorable as the characters, including the one that delivered the twist at the end. Being steampunk, I expected alternative history, so I won’t over-judge the authenticity beyond wondering about some oddities such as a misplaced dragon-head.   

The romance between Alfhild and Minerva is a bonus with neat contrasts across cultures and time. And with a name like Minerva, there had to be goddess references.

Alfhild was the true goddess, not she. Or maybe they both were?

It was a thesis she would have to explore in more detail. For the sake of science.

But the humour is always there.

Minerva cocked her head. Surely, she didn’t hear the word goldfish in the chorus? “ . . . Minerva’s Magic Goldfish. Answers every sailor’s wish . . .” Oh, dear.

A fun read, although short.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – three stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

Ninth Step Station – a review

My third ‘cloak and dagger’ read of 2019 was a new approach for me – serialized fiction released in episodes week after week. The publishers, Serial Box offered me an ARC as I had read and reviewed a novel by one of the four writers, back in September 2017: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. I am grateful and glad I agreed to read the ARC for Season 1 of Ninth Step Station.

Ninth Step Station: The Complete Season 1

(Ninth Step Station Series #1.1-1.10)

by

Malka Ann Older (Goodreads Author), Fran Wilde (Goodreads Author), Jacqueline Koyanagi (Goodreads Author), Curtis C. Chen (Goodreads Author)

A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. 

In the city of drone-enforced borders, body-mod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda.

Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

Review 4.4 stars

I was pleased to receive this serialised fiction as an ARC from Serial Box Publishing as it was an exciting read.

This police procedural set in a near future Tokyo consists of ten engrossing episodes written by different authors, including at least one, Jacqueline Koyanagi whose debut novel I’ve read and reviewed.

The style is reminiscent of US crime series, but with its own interesting approach as the sense of an imminent future pervades but doesn’t take over the plots. This could be ‘tomorrow’ with China occupying part of Japan and a sector of Tokyo, and with the US playing what is meant to be peacekeeper. Ninth Step Station has some fascinating characters, interesting plots, futuristic tech and very real political intrigue.

US peacekeeper Emma Higashi (Japanese-American) is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda at Nine Step Station, one of the key TMP stations. The cases they are tasked with solving are standalone, but there are overarching events that carry through the novel/series with the usual TV-style cliff-hanger to lead into Series 2.

The crimes in the ten episodes vary from suspected suicide and domestic violence to assassination and terrorism with differing levels of technological involvement such as body-mods, drones, data mining, and data sleeves – all realistic evolutions of existing tech. The data sleeves especially play a key role in enabling people to instantly communicate and interface – although this is also a city troubled by regular power-cuts/blackouts. However, the war and the gangs/Yakuza make solving crimes challenging with some data irretrievable and some information obscured by human evasiveness.

Each of the writers gives an individual feel to each episode, yet together they create a seamless story with consistent and evolving characters, a realistic-feeling Tokyo post-occupation and those building overarching events. The TV-style structure means the episodes are formula to some degree, but they are enjoyable – although not as complex as some mysteries I read.

Both the two main characters and the supporting players are distinctly portrayed, and there are developing attributes and discoveries as the episodes unfold. The misunderstanding and conflicts arising between the two protagonists due to cultural differences, personal secrets and political agendas create a more complex relationship than an instant crime-fighting partnership and that relationship has room to grow. I was also pleased to see that the issues of gender bias and sexuality were addressed – although not as suspected.

Not knowing Tokyo, I assume that the world-building does build on the present city, although I realise that the format only allows the setting to receive less attention than the stand-out characters who are what will pull me back here.

I look forward to the sequel as there is plenty to build on in Ninth Step Station.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

What Child Is This – a review

Thursday_horizons

I fell behind with my reading during NaNoWriMo in November, although I did finish Book 2 in a fantasy trilogy, but my review of that is pending my reading Book 2.

After my November focus on writing, this month has seen me focused on a beta read – and my WEP/IWSG contribution.

However, I have been reading a novel as well, plus the short story that earns today’s Thursday Creation Review as this was seasonal with an uplifting message.

 

WhatChildIsThis

What Child Is This

by

Rhys Bowen

Christmas during World War II is a time for small miracles in this bittersweet short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and In Farleigh Field.

Jack and Maggie Harris are adrift on ravaged streets during the London Blitz. Their home is gone. They have nowhere to go and nothing left to lose. With only the memories of their greatest loss—the death of their child during a Christmas years before—Jack and Maggie settle in a seemingly deserted mansion for the night.

Inside they find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer. They also discover a surprise. Now, in the darkest of times, the unexpected compassion of strangers will make this Christmas one to remember forever.

 

Review 5 stars

As the festive season drew on, I was treated to this wonderful Christmas read – an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, but I would have willingly bought this.

Set during one of the darker moments in Britain’s history, when the country was locked in the midst of WWII, this short story paints a snapshot of the London Blitz. An image of a time when people tried to remain strong and strive to be positive – as these characters do.

Jack and Maggie Harris are bombed out of their home in the East End, already scarred with the loss of a child during another Christmas. Their unfolding attempt to find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer on Christmas Eve was uplifting – light in the darkness.

I liked all the background detail of the period which echoed what I knew of the Blitz from other books and my own research. Having lived in and explored London, I could envisage where this occurred.

And I related to the characters, who, even in this tight tale, rang true with reactions and emotions that added to the story’s magic. The main characters especially had understandable flaws within their positivism.

The ending was a reward for all – including this reader – and it had me smiling and feeling festively satisfied.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Ragged Edge of Night – a review

Thursday_horizons

NaNoWriMo might be my focus for November but I am making time for this Thursday Creation Review as this book seems timely with a strong message.

RaggedEdge

The Ragged Edge of Night

by

Olivia Hawker

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and The Nightingale comes an emotionally gripping, beautifully written historical novel about extraordinary hope, redemption, and one man’s search for light during the darkest times of World War II.

Germany, 1942. Franciscan friar Anton Starzmann is stripped of his place in the world when his school is seized by the Nazis. He relocates to a small German hamlet to wed Elisabeth Herter, a widow who seeks a marriage—in name only—to a man who can help raise her three children. Anton seeks something too—atonement for failing to protect his young students from the wrath of the Nazis. But neither he nor Elisabeth expects their lives to be shaken once again by the inescapable rumble of war.

As Anton struggles to adapt to the roles of husband and father, he learns of the Red Orchestra, an underground network of resisters plotting to assassinate Hitler. Despite Elisabeth’s reservations, Anton joins this army of shadows. But when the SS discovers his schemes, Anton will embark on a final act of defiance that may cost him his life—even if it means saying goodbye to the family he has come to love more than he ever believed possible.

Review 5 stars

Although the pace was slower than many of my usual reads, the setting of a rural village in World War II Germany made for an underlying threat that drove the story forward. The pace matched the reality portrayed.

The influence of Hitler and his Nazis seeped into the story, although the main protagonist Anton Starzmann was building a new life with Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children in rural surroundings. His past as a Franciscan friar, whose pupils have been ‘relocated’ by the SS, haunts his gradual attempt to take a stand against the Nazi evil.

Early on he hears a conversation that becomes fundamental:

“Her companion is quick to answer, quick to defend. “It’s only this: I’ve never seen God. Why should I credit Him for a blessing, or leave Him any blame? Men are quite capable of destroying the world on their own, as we can plainly see. They don’t need any help from above.”

Anton observes that he hasn’t met Hitler, but the Fuehrer’s evil exists – and he resists. The musical instruments of his condemned pupils become central to that stand, and not just in their re-use – far better than what the Nazis plan for them.

“I’ve heard the Party are paying good money for brass. The Schutzstaffel want it for casings—ammunition.”

I wondered if music could foil the savage beast and, in a way, it became a means to take a stand. I shared the fear that the resistance within Germany and the village of Unterboihingen, called the Red Orchestra would be exposed and killed.

It didn’t matter that I knew the outcome of WWII as I didn’t know whether anything about that resistance. It’s a sad fact that it became easier for others to see all Germans as evil. Having had a German girlfriend, I know that isn’t true. And this book confirms that there was a lot of good alive, and people trying to survive.

The characters from Anton to minor characters come alive as the story builds and I became invested in their lives.

The village and its surroundings are beautifully described, and the language is so evocative of the hard but special life that Anton and his new family are living. The war rages and the nightly bombing of nearby Stuttgart threaten behind the village life that attempts to continue, using lessons and practises of the past. Barter replaces money – as it did in many countries.

There are highlights to enrich the children’s lives like precious Easter eggs, chocolates and simple handmade gifts.

The end and the impending terror draws closer when a ruthless act forces a final act of defiance.

The story resonated so much with me that I was pleased to discover that it is based on real events. And that makes it relevant to today when Neo-Nazis are on the rise everywhere.

But as the author says:

“We are Widerstand—resistance—you and I. No force can silence us, unless we permit silence. I prefer to roar.”

This book was an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, and even if I’d paid the proper price The Ragged Edge of Night would be a recommended must read.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars