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

Code Name Verity – a review

Thursday_horizons

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

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