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

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

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

2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge


Yesterday, I posted my 2018 books and hinted at another Challenge as well as the Goodreads Reading Challenge. While the Goodreads target includes all genres, this other one is restricted to the genres that my writing falls into. My current WIP is a police procedural but the Cloak and Dagger Challenge encompasses other related genres.

If you want to learn more, visit the sign-up site at: https://www.booksmoviesreviewsohmy.com/2018-cloak-and-dagger-challenge-sign-up/

However, here are the rules copied from the site:

Challenge Rules:

  • You can read any book that is from the mystery/suspense/thriller/crime genres. Any sub-genres are welcome as long as they incorporate one of these genres.
  • You don’t need a blog to participate but you do need a place to post your reviews to link up. (blog, goodreads, booklikes, shelfari, etc.)
  • Make a goal post and link it back here with your goal for this challenge.
  • Books need to be novellas or novels, please no short stories. (At least 100 pages +)
  • Crossovers into other challenges are fine.
  • The Challenge will be from Jan. 1st to Dec. 31st. (Sign up ends March 15th)

This year we are doing the link up a little different. Both Barb and I keep forgetting to do the link ups each month so I thought it would be easier on us if we did Quarterly link ups, so there will be four review link-ups. (Jan-March, April-June, July-Sept and Oct-Dec)

There will be a monthly link up so that others can check out your progress and look at your reviews. At the halfway mark and at the end we will have a giveaway for those participating.

If you tweet about your progress or reviews please use the hashtag #CloakDaggerChal so others can see it.

Levels:

5-15 books – Amateur sleuth

16-25 books – Detective 

26-35 books – Inspector

36 – 55 – Special agent

56+ books – Sherlock Holmes

My 2019 Cloak and Dagger Books

Looking back at my diverse 2018 reads according to Goodreads, I managed to read 11 ‘Cloak and Dagger Books last year – that made me an Amateur sleuth.

But I’m not aiming to read any Cozy Mysteries in 2019, so my aim is to reach the Detective level. Is that realistic?

This is my current list of ‘eligible’ books based on the paperbacks on my desk and on my US & UK Kindles. However, the ones on the UK Kindle, I am unable to access except on the Kindle Cloud reader – such as the rest of the brilliant Fiona Griffiths series. Plus, I am likely to see some tempting reviews that I have to act on as well – and I have some unbought ‘wants’ at Amazon.

  1. The Things You Didn’t See by Ruth Dugdall – read and reviewed: https://rolandclarke.com/2019/01/09/the-things-you-didnt-see-a-review%EF%BB%BF/
  2. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – I’m currently reading this unusual mystery that feels like Cluedo crossed with Groundhog Day with Agatha Christie pulling the strings.
  3. Murder Keeps No Calendar by Cathy Ace – a short story collection from Welsh Canadian author, Cathy Ace whom I first discovered when I picked up a paperback in a Welsh market.
  4. The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey by J. Michael Orenduff – 8th in the Pot Thief Mysteries series but can be read out of order. I won this in an author giveaway.
  5. The Fake Date by Lynda Stacey – a psychological thriller that received excellent reviews, especially from a reviewer I follow. Plus, the protagonist has amnesia like my detective.
  6. A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang – one of my January free Prime reads with an unusual premise.
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – the February/March selection for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club and an overdue read.
  8. Hunter’s Chase by Val Penny – a ‘well plotted’ crime novel reviewed by an author I rate.
  9. No Life Until Death by Garry Rodgers – Vancouver-based police procedural from a retired RCMP homicide detective whose informative blog I follow.
  10. The Silent Dead/Death in the Lakes by Graham Smith – first in police procedural series set in the Lake District, UK.
  11. The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin – the premise of a female comic book writer tackling crime and the sample hooked me.
  12. The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury – a historical mystery set in 12th century Wales so three reasons to tempt me.
  13. The Lady of the Lakewood Diner by Anne R. Allen – a comedy whodunnit with Woodstock era characters and more. And a writer that I follow and admire.
  14. The Inside Passage by Pendelton Wallace – first in the Ted Higuera suspense thriller series.
  15. Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett – set in an area of the UK, Kent, that I know well, plus this is the first book in the Kay Hunter series.
  16. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham – a must-read as I’m a fan of Welsh detective Fiona Griffiths; this is the fourth novel in the series.
  17. Montbel: A French Murder Mystery by Angela Wren – another visit to the Cevennes is due so I must read this Jacques Forêt Mystery, the third outing in enjoyable series. See my review of Book 1 at https://rolandclarke.com/2017/09/12/messandrierre-a-review/ .
  18. Shallow Waters by Rebecca Bradley – police procedural by a retired police detective set in Nottingham, UK. Second in the D.I. Hannah Robbins series.
  19. Marred by Sue Colettta – the first in a series by the respected crime writer that deals realistically with the attempt to bring a serial killer to justice.
  20. The Spy’s Bedside Book by Graham Greene (Editor), Hugh Greene (Editor), Stella Rimington (Introduction) – collection of short stories.
  21. A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay – it’s about time I read another novel by one of my favourite authors, and this one involves memory loss as well.

This feels like a daunting list, but it’s only mid-January so there’s no reason to panic, Jonesy. If you have any suggestions as to books I should add, comment away.

I might have a larger task with the fourteen additional books that I need to read for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Children’s books, and novellas?