A word we often see, maybe use. But do you know how it originated?
Shakespeare perhaps? Or???
In fact, it was a word originating in World War II and appropriate in many contexts. Name one use before you read the original post.
All the research nuggets were unearthed while I was creating the game-world for my novel ‘Wyrm Bait’. Those, evolved into my post-apocalyptic saga Gossamer Flames. And the research is ongoing as rabbit holes keep appearing.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
But still this earns four stars and was a good listen. On to
another engrossing Wein book.
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.
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.
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.
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.