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

The Ragged Edge of Night – a review

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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.

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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

R is for Rurikid Diarchy

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

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R is for Rurikid Diarchy: 23 April 1933, Kiev – With the peaceful future of international relations thriving after the creation of the Union of World Nations in 1930, Tsaritsa Irina Feodorovna, co-ruler of the Rurikid Diarchy agrees with her co-ruler Patriarch Yaroslav Pieracki of the Kievan Orthodox Church that they should abdicate in favour of a true democracy. Despite the opposition of Georgian authoritarian, Josef Stalin, her Ukrainian advisors, Dariya Stasiuk and Havryil Chayka, draw up a constitution that addresses the existence in the Rurikid territories of various ethnic groups and states, using the example set by their trading partner, Kanata.

Fears of another European war diminish with the successful election of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and the defeat of the Nazi party struggling after the death from syphilis of their psychotic leader Adolf Hitler.

A year later the Rurikid Confederation is born, with the Tsaritsa agreeing to represent Rurikid and perform speeches or attend any important ceremonial events as a symbolical guide to the people, but she agrees to hold no actual power in decision-making, appointments, etcetera. The Rurikid dynasty has ruled the Rus territories since 862, when her Varangian ancestor, Prince Rurik, originally from Norway, settled Novgorod before conquering Kievan Rus′.

 

800px-Top_of_the_Millennium_of_Russia_Monument_in_Novgorod,_2005

Millenium of Russia monument in Novgorod with Prince Rurik at the centre and Vladimir the Great at the left and Dmitry Donskoy at the right (both Rurikids) – Creative Commons

In our timeline: The Rurikid Dynasty was founded by the Varangian Prince Rurik, around the year 862, and they ruled in parts of Russia for over 700 years. The Varangians was a name given to the Vikings by the East Slavs and Greeks. Many served as mercenaries with the Byzantine Empire.

 

The last Tsars, the Romanovs, were descended from the Rurikids through marriage, but their reign ended with the Russian Revolution in 1917. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian by birth and took part in the Revolutions of 1917. He was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Some have argued that he would have forced his way into power under any system and was never a true communist.

The Russian Orthodox Church was founded around 988 and survived through the Soviet period despite persecution. Some of the former states now have separate Orthodox Churches over which the ROC does not have full autonomy, notably the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany was the main opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but in 1930, its deputies were either arrested or fled into exile. Adolf Hitler is reputed to have had various medical conditions, including syphilis.

Could a move to genuine democracy in Germany and Russia, and the death of Hitler, have avoided World War II? What kind of influence could a Kanata Confederation with allies in Northern Europe have wielded?

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Important Links for the A to Z Challenge – please use these links to find other A to Z Bloggers

Website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

The Book Thief – a review

Last month, I found my reading had a theme – Books – and that began with  Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone, which I reviewed on July 23rd.

Now I have finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I review below, but I lied when I said, “I don’t intend to move on from there to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451…” That’s my current read, but I promise a change of direction next time.

However, it was weird to stumble on a short by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that echoed that book theme, burning books, and the Library of Alexandra. If you can find it, The Midbury Lake Incident is part of the Uncollected Anthology Magical Libraries.

Anyway, all this synchronicity is giving me goose-bumps. But then Death was a quirky character in Jackie Moore Kessler’s Hunger, and now in The Book Thief, the narrator is Death with opinions and frailties.

So before I give my latest review, and as we are on the subject of reviews, I came across this topical post: http://terrytyler59.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/augustreviews-because-every-little-helps.html

 

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The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was the best-selling debut literary novel of the year 2007, selling over 400,000 copies. The author is a prize-winning writer of children’s books, and this, his first novel for adults, proved to be a triumphant success. The book is extraordinary on many levels: moving, yet restrained, angry yet balanced — and written with the kind of elegance found all too rarely in fiction these days. The book’s narrator is nothing less than Death itself, regaling us with a remarkable tale of book burnings, treachery and theft. The book never forgets the primary purpose of compelling the reader’s attention, yet which nevertheless is able to impart a cogent message about the importance of words, particularly in those societies which regard the word as dangerous (the book is set during the Nazi regime, but this message is all too relevant in many places in the world today).
Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers’ instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them.

I have no hesitation in standing alongside those readers that loved this book. Words are important to me as a writer and a reader, so I could feel for the title character, Liesel, and for all those swept in different directions by the power of the word.

On the one hand, the novel shows how easily the sweet insidious words of Hitler could sway so many ordinary people. Most of the characters are German citizens reacting like so many of us do…with knee-jerk responses. Life goes on. It’s too easy to sit back and then realise too late what is really going on. Sadly, just glancing at current politics, we haven’t learnt from those dark days.

On the other hand, words are the beacon of hope for Liesel and others. Books create possibilities, whether classics or stories written on the paint covered pages of Mein Kampf. They inspire.

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.”

Although the Holocaust is building in the background, and the plight of one particular Jew, Max, touches Liesel and our lives, this is a novel about the way that German people reacted to the events at that time. Markus Zusak might be Australian but his mother Lisa is originally from Germany and his father Helmut is from Austria. So they would have known about those times, and having had German friends, I know that the perspective of the citizens was similar to what Liesel experienced. And this novel is from the viewpoint of a child – well except for when Death paints the darker aspects of events, as he/it is always there, especially when the atrocities happen or a child dies senselessly.

Death is a tragic narrator, struggling to understand humanity and trying to take a caring approach to a distasteful job, because “even death has a heart”.

“Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.”

Death’s observations enhance the unfolding story, and in places Death gets the best lines:

“The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”

And then says, “I am haunted by Humans.” And Death is drawn to Liesel’s story in which there are so many rich characters, from Papa to Rudy Steiner to the Mayor’s Wife, and so many others.

In fact, there was so much to love, from poetic passages and images, to emotion wringing incidents, that I must re-read “The Book Thief”.

The final words must be Liesel’s, and to discover more pick up the novel.

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”

 

 

 

Q is for Quisling

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Q is for Quisling: In the world of Gossamer Steel, the people of The Country (Scandinavia) are betrayed by people they once called friends, but now call Quislings.

A quisling is a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force. The word originates from the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling who was the head of a collaborationist regime in Norway during the Second World War.

The term quisling was coined by the British newspaper The Times in an editorial published on 19 April 1940, entitled “Quislings everywhere”, after the Norwegian Vidkun Quisling, who assisted Nazi Germany as it conquered his own country so that he could rule the collaborationist Norwegian government himself. The Daily Mail picked up the term, and the BBC then brought it into common use internationally. The Times’ editorial asserted: “To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.”

[Photo: Quisling [centre] visits the German propaganda companies’ large exhibition ”Soldier and Correspondent” in the National Gallery in Oslo on August 15th 1944. The exhibition was about German war reporters.  ~ Courtesy of the Norwegian News Agency, Oslo]

Quisling

Quisling [centre] visits the German propaganda companies’ large exhibition ”Soldier and Correspondent” in the National Gallery in Oslo on August 15th 1944. The exhibition was about German war reporters. ~ Courtesy of the Norwegian News Agency, Oslo

The term has been used in fiction to describe traitors and collaborators. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars, the term is used to describe those early colonists who joined the side of Earth and the transnationals opposing the Martian faction in the conflict of 2061. In the novel World War Z by Max Brooks, quislings are those humans who after having a nervous breakdown have started behaving like zombies, often fooling fellow survivors but never the undead that they try to imitate.

Q is also for Quests, of which some are threads in Gossamer Steel, and for Qulin, a mythical hooved chimerical creature known throughout various East Asian cultures.

PREVIOUS A TO Z POSTS:

A is for Array ~ B is for the Blood-Marked ~ C is for Corylus Avellana ~ D is for Duskweald ~ E is for Energy ~ F is for Feeniks ~ G is for Garuda ~ H is for Herders ~ I is for Ithaka ~ J is for Junk ~ K is for Kitsune ~ L is for Lorelei ~ M is for Mojave ~ N is for Native~ O is for Outcasts  ~ P is for Punk

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The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behaviour.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. Please visit other challenge writers.

My theme is ‘The World of Gossamer Steel, the SF-fantasy setting for a series of short stories and novellas that portray the tales behind the MMORPG that is central to my crime novel ‘Wyrm Bait’.

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