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

Joseph Barnaby – a review

Thursday_horizons

When my Kindle died recently, I had to revert to my pile of reconstituted trees and so today’s Thursday Creation Review is the most recent paperback I finished. Beyond that, I will be reviewing a book that I’m reading – drum-roll – on my new Kindle Fire 7.

That new acquisition was a problem as almost all my 500+ Kindle titles are on my UK account – and Amazon stopped me buying a new device from their UK site to send to my US address. So, the new Kindle is linked to my US account which has only a couple of dozen titles – enough for now, even if some are in my paperback collection.

Anyway, time for this review.

NOTE: book release on October 5th 2018.

 JosephBarnaby

Joseph Barnaby

by

Susan Roebuck (Goodreads Author)

Stand by your beliefs – even if it means going to the end of the Earth.

By standing up for his principles, horse farrier Joseph Barnaby lost everything. Now, when a personal vendetta goes too deep to fight, he escapes to the Portuguese island of Madeira where he finds work on a small farm only accessible by boat.

The balmy climate and never-ending supply of exotic fruit, vegetables, and honey make it sound like paradise. But, for Joseph, it’s the ideal place to hide from the world.

Not everyone is prepared to give up on life’s misfortunes. The local fishing village has its own surprises and the inhabitants of Quinta da Esperança have more grit in them than the pebbled beach that borders the property.

Review 4.6 stars

When I discovered that the main protagonist was “horse farrier Joseph Barnaby”, my ears pricked, and the Portuguese island of Madeira made this a Must Read. When I won this excellent novel in an Advance Giveaway from author Susan Roebuck – but with no obligation to write anything about Joseph Barnaby – the book moved to the top of my reading pile.

The exact reason why Joe Barnaby escapes his life with horses in England is carefully revealed in flashbacks that felt at moments like a Dick Francis mystery. In contrast, his new life working on a small farm near the fishing village of Quinta da Esperança became a wonderful romance with both the island and with a young deaf woman, Sofia – although there are obstacles thrown in their path, including Joe’s past.

For me, the romance worked, and I was swept along; plus, the horseracing mystery spurred my ‘detective’ skills. I began to suspect what might have happened as the clues were slipped out, and the resolution satisfied me – as did the romantic denouement.

I must admit that there were some minor moments where my equestrian brain questioned the odd bit of phrasing, but slight, and even as an equestrian journalist, I have made mistakes. I was interested in the way that Riding for the Disabled featured – having personal connections to that inspiring movement.

The settings were vividly described, and I was immersed in the story because of those descriptions – and through the wonderful cast.

There were some great characters, from the main protagonists of Joe and Sofia to the supporting cast, from memorable fishermen to the two principal antagonists. The latter were not as devious as the ones that challenge my brain in crime novels, but they displayed traits that kept the protagonists challenged. Sofia’s bees are characters themselves as well as an inspirational community. And I must mention Ed the donkey – just read and find out.

One woman was elusively mysterious, adding a clever thread to the story that wove through so many elements – I’m avoiding spoilers here. I want to say that there are a few clever threads, from the island’s past to the medical themes.

Sofia’s deafness seemed to be understood by the author and sensitively handled – adding to my engagement with the character. How others interacted with her was well contrasted, with some signing, others lip-reading, and those frustrated by her.

This novel was the perfect combination for me – horses and romance in a Portuguese setting. A strong 4.6 stars and a recommended quick read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Code Name Verity – a review

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Three troubled weeks and mounting problems have delayed this review – apologies. I finished reading Code Name Verity on September 5, but a bad head cold laid me low, and now financial hurdles have arisen.

However, I am attempting this edition of my Thursday Creation Review and hope that I can catch up as there are full reviews outstanding from early in the year – and I’ve just finished another book.

Verity

Code Name Verity

(Code Name Verity #1)

by

Elizabeth E. Wein (Goodreads Author)

Two young women become unlikely best friends during World War II, until one is captured by the Gestapo.

Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity”’s own words, as she writes her account for her captors. Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they’ve ever believed in is put to the test . . .

A gripping thriller, Code Name Verity blends a work of fiction into 20th century history with spine-tingling results. A book for young adults like no other.

Review 5 stars

When a young woman is captured by the Gestapo in occupied France, she begins writing down an account for her captors about a plucky lass, Maddie from Manchester. Her story, told as one of her captors accuses ‘in novel form’, shows how Maddie learns to fly and becomes an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. She befriends Queenie, an enigmatic Scottish aristocrat who is recruited as a spy by the Special Operations Executive. Through this account, the Gestapo learn secrets about the Allies war-effort as well as about the two young women – and the reader realises that the writer is Queenie.

“I of course took the opportunity to interpose wi’ pig-headed Wallace pride, ‘I am not English, you ignorant Jerry bastard, I am a SCOT.” 

Queenie is accused of being a collaborator, giving away crucial wireless codes and more for her ongoing survival. However, as this account spilt out with disturbing details, I wondered what was being revealed. Perhaps it was the novel’s opening quote about passive resisters that made me unsure about Queenie’s account. Or the truth is, as Queenie writes at the beginning, “I AM A COWARD” and a traitor?

What is truth? What is verity? That is the question in war when some sacrifices pay that ultimate price, and principals are abandoned. The atmosphere is rife with emotions – grief gives way to anger as the details are exposed of an era when so many died; what did they die for? The truth?

Although Queenie’s account is written for the Gestapo, it peels back their layers, even revealing cultural tastes.

“Nothing like an arcane literary debate with your tyrannical master while you pass the time leading to your execution.”

There are moments of humour that distract and buy time. For whom? For what? On one level, it seems that the cost of this betrayal will be too high, yet I wanted Queenie to survive.

I just hoped that this was a masterful deception and that a rescue was imminent. When the novel switches from Queenie’s POV to that of Maddie, I experienced new emotions – not just renewed hope. The voice changed, although the writer had already given us a taste of Maddie’s character as well as of the harsh existence in Occupied France.

To say more would require spoilers. Just know that Maddie’s story is as riveting with unexpected plot twists that play through to the end – to the truth, or should I say Verity.

All the characters are engaging, whether they are the older adults like the officer that recruits Queenie, or the young people on the frontline of this and so many other wars. Elizabeth Wein captures a deep sense of all those caught up in these life-changing events.

This is a brilliant and gritty YA novel that sweeps the reader along with the feisty and resourceful protagonists – pulled into their minds and actions. I felt I was witnessing the highs and lows of lives experienced in the face of the traumatic horrors of war

And running through the novel, adding another layer to the central characters, was the Neverland theme – poignant and beautiful.

“How did you ever get here, Maddie Brodatt?”
“‘Second to the right, and then straight on till morning,'” she answered promptly-it did feel like Neverland.
“Crikey, am I so obviously Peter Pan?”
Maddie laughed. “The Lost Boys give it away.”
Jamie studied his hands. “Mother keeps the windows open in all our bedrooms while we’re gone, like Mrs. Darling, just in case we come flying home when she’s not expecting us.”

Code Name Verity must be my favourite read of 2018 as it played with all my emotions. I look forward to reading both the prequel the Pearl Thief – which is more in the style of a classic mystery – and Rose Under Fire a sequel of sorts.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths – a review

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For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m catching up on an outstanding one from March when. I wrote a few words on Goodreads for this third book in the Fiona Griffiths series by Harry Bingham and promised a longer review.

This will be my third review of a Fiona Griffiths book – see also: Book 1. Talking to the Dead and Book 2. Love Story with Murders.

Anyway, as promised…

StrangeDeath

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

(Fiona Griffiths #3)

by

Harry Bingham (Goodreads Author)

It started out as nothing much. A minor payroll fraud at a furniture store in South Wales. No homicide involved, no corpses. Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths fights to get free of the case but loses. She’s tasked with the investigation.

She begins her enquiries, only to discover the corpse of a woman who’s starved to death. Looks further, and soon realizes that within the first, smaller crime, a vaster one looms: the most audacious theft in history.

Fiona’s bosses need a copper willing to go undercover, and they ask Fiona to play the role of a timid payroll clerk so that she can penetrate the criminal gang from within.

Fiona will be alone, she’ll be lethally vulnerable – and her fragile grip on ‘Planet Normal’ will be tested as never before …

Review 5 stars

Fiona Griffiths is one amazingly quirky detective and this third book adds just another layer or two to her persona. Harry Bingham continues to throw curve balls in her path, starting with that title.

When DC Fiona Griffiths is tasked with investigating a minor payroll fraud, she discovers a vaster crime is lurking within the first. Fiona is asked to go undercover as a timid payroll clerk to penetrate the criminal gang from inside. But, being alone and vulnerable, challenges her ability to cope with reality.

I enjoyed this third book even more than the previous. Fiona continues to go down unexpected paths and evolve in unexpected ways. With her new persona, she is so complex and fascinating that there was room for her to explore this new world, discover different people – all well portrayed – and prove she can interact convincingly with criminals. If you have read the first two books, then you know that her father has criminal connections. However, she is always operating on a precipice – in reality, and in her mind.

As Fiona becomes Jessica, there is a clever change of pace that matches the new character – a new character that Fiona inhabits almost too well. The title began to make sense, but then the author added new twists and turns – new layers to his protagonist and that title.

The settings are crafted with a realism that matches the unfolding story – from London offices to remote Welsh farms. Gritty when the scene requires that but uplifting when the reader needs green spaces and strong breezes. A year in Fiona’s life covers so much territory.

Harry Bingham is a great believer in keeping readers thinking as well as the coppers and the criminals. He creates believable situations and demonstrates the depth of his research, even down to the details of forms that Fiona/Jessica handles and the electronics both sides use.

Nothing is ever easy or calm when undercover, and as Fiona/Jessica got deeper into this criminal world, I asked, “Will Jessica survive?” Prepare for another awesome ending.

I look forward to visiting Fiona Griffiths’ Cardiff/South Wales world soon, especially as she has ongoing questions to resolve.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Mr Churchill’s Secretary – a review

Thursday_horizons

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m reviewing a historical mystery set in World War II that I read after reading tempting reviews for two books from the ongoing series.

I’m hesitating from getting the next book for reasons stated in the review – and the length of the series so the costs in reading time and my dwindling book funds.

 MaggieHope

Mr Churchill’s Secretary

(Maggie Hope Mystery #1)

by

Susan Elia MacNeal (Goodreads Author)

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this thrilling debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a beautifully crafted mystery.

Review 3.7 stars

Fortunately, I didn’t read too many reviews of this novel first, so my enjoyment wasn’t tainted by watching out for potholes – historical or linguistic errors. Yes, I spotted some mistakes, but the plot swept me past them. So, I’m not going to nit-pick – and I know first-hand about American editors making changes for their larger market. (I fear my own writing lapses into Americanisms that might cause problems.)

Anyway, I suspended my disbelief and judgemental self to read about a clever young woman attempting to push past the restrictions imposed on women. The heroine, Maggie Hope has the qualifications to be more than just a typist for Winston Churchill, but that is how she starts out at 10, Downing Street. From there, she becomes involved in ‘a web of spies, murder, and intrigue’ earning promotion of sorts.

The plot unfolds through a series of events told from multiple POVs – almost too many by the end, though never a read-block – and the threads are brought together in a series of climactic episodes. Eventually, these lead into the over-long set-up for what has become not just a sequel but a series of books.

Were there plot holes? No, a few coincidences but life is full of them, and these felt explained, especially as some characters were being minimal with what they told Maggie – they have their reasons like there is a war on and “Careless talk costs lives”.

As a Brit ex-pat living in the US, I enjoyed reading about London during the war and recognised places from having lived there (and researched places destroyed in the Blitz). The fashion, music, art and celebrity references made me smile, especially as Maggie was part of a set on the fringes of high-society. Hobnobbing and name-dropping was rife throughout the world I grew up in. There were settings outside London that I recognised, although a few decades after these events – they came alive for me.

The characters, especially Maggie, felt realistic, even though emotions felt restrained in some cases. For instance, when death becomes more personal, there are demonstrations of grief – but not wailing. But even by the time the Blitz arrives, there is a sense of numbness for some – a numbness that shatters, perhaps not as overtly as we might portray it today. Stiff upper lip? And some of the secondary roles felt shallow in passing.

When the Luftwaffe arrived over London, the atmosphere changed, and the plot moved faster for me. Life must continue, including dancing, but the danger was more visible – and the smell pungent. So, characters are asking, ‘Who to trust?’ They become more conscious of Nazi sympathisers and more in their midst. Britain has older enemies and we slowly learn why in dialogue, memories and songs.

I always felt that Susan Elia MacNeal had done her research – for instance, when Frederick Ashton appeared- and despite the few potholes that I read around. Her ‘historical notes’ make it clear that this research was extensive, and she used numerous reputable sources, including her inspiration for Maggie and her fictional exploits in the real-life Churchill secretaries, Marian Holmes and Elizabeth Layton Nel.

This was a fast read, and I recommend this novel. Book 2 will have to wait as I have other historical novels to tackle first – and I need to forget those distracting reviews that I want to disagree with.

3.7 stars upgraded to 4.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – three stars

Structure – three stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

 

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? – a review

Thursday_horizons

 

For today’s Thursday Creation Review, I’m reviewing another of Sue Barnard’s novels, Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?, which I announced prior to its release on Monday, July 30th, alongside my review of Sue’s last novel, Never on Saturday.

This post is somewhat delayed due to MS depression zapping my spoons.

Heathcliff

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?

by

Sue Barnard (Goodreads Author)

“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”

Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heights change Heathcliff’s life. At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.

Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.

But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?

For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered. Until now…

Review 4.4 stars

I always enjoy Sue Barnard’s novels so was looking forward to this one – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Although I read some long summaries of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, to familiarise myself, I regretted that I had never read the book – my excuse being that it was not a set book at school, unlike Jane Austen’s and Joseph Conrad’s works. (An omission that I intend to rectify). However, a prior knowledge isn’t required as many of the incidents are recounted, albeit with the missing three years at their heart.

The style of narration adopted seems to echo that used by Emily Bronte, but with Sue Barnard’s style woven in to make this a re-telling. Each scene is told from alternating perspectives, with the narrator’s name before each one.

For those three years of Heathcliff’s life that Emily Bronte left unexplained, Sue Barnard has done some interesting research and come up with plausible reasons, not only for his wealth and prosperity but also for his appearances and mannerisms. But I won’t let on about that time, just believe me when I say that the explanation works – as does some fascinating revelations at the end of the novel. Hidden secrets and devious research make for key threads.

Barnard makes good use of the historical setting for her re-telling, creating some new and memorable characters to fill those unexplained years. And the existing characters might be Bronte’s but they are fleshed out, although I didn’t understand some of their oddities. Heathcliff became clearer and darker than I had envisaged him – no thanks to Hollywood. He comes over as both tragic as he spirals out of control and depressing in his failure to see reason. But isn’t that the way with anti-heroes?

So, this wasn’t a smooth read, nor my favourite Barnard book, but I still recommend this novel.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

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