Thursday, March 31, 2016

Three Young Women are Enmeshed in the Horrors of World War II

As the Nazi war machine begins it's invasion of Europe, three young women find their lives changed forever. Carolyn Ferriday, a d├ębutante and former Broadway actress, volunteers at the French Embassy where she is caught up in the flow of French citizens either trying to escape the advance of the Nazis, or trying to get home to loved ones. Later she becomes involved in helping the survivors of Ravensbruck. 

Kasia Kuzmerick is a teenager in occupied Poland. At first she thinks the Nazis won't bother her town, but soon they arrive and people are transported to Ravensbruck for reeducation. Kasia's mother and sister are sent and finally Kasia joins them.

Herta Oberheuser, a young German doctor is frustrated that she is allowed such a limited medical practice. The Nazis see young women as mothers rather than skilled professionals. To get closer to working in her desired professions, she applies for a government medical position and finds herself in another male-dominated environment where she is expected to do terrible things.

This is a very well written book that is hard to read in places. The author has spent a great deal of time and effort learning about the atrocities committed at Ravensbruck and does an excellent job of creating a realistic environment for her three characters. I loved Kasia and Carolyn, but found Herta and her work so repugnant that sometimes I had to put the book down.

Two of the characters, Carolyn and Herta, are historical figures. The story could have been told with just these two, but I found the addition of Kasia helped highlight the horror of what the Nazis did to women. I highly recommend this book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Victorian Mystery, a Train Accident, and Romance

After a disappointing ball where Lady Elizabeth saw people whispering about her, she and her mother board a train to return to the their home at Kellham Park. Before they reach their station, the train careens off the track in a horrible accident. Amid the fire and smoke, Lady Elizabeth pulls her unconscious mother from the train.

A handsome railway surgeon, Paul Wilcox, finds them huddled in a field and makes arrangements for them to be taken to a local inn. Lady Elizabeth feels drawn to Paul as they work through the night to save the injured passengers.

At the inn, Lady Elizabeth hears that the train wreck was no accident and that it may involve her fortune. Eager to solve the mystery, she finds herself thrust into secrets hidden in her own family.

Romance and mystery make this novel worth reading if you enjoy the Victorian Era. The pace is quite fast helped by the intertwining of the mystery and the romance. The historical background on railways seems accurate as do the other historical details.

The characters are likable. Lady Elizabeth is a determined young woman who is not afraid to flaunt the conventions of her time. Paul Wilcox believes in practicing medicine to save lives, rather than conform to the medical myths of the day. Both characters are honorable and intelligent.

I enjoyed this book. It's not primarily a mystery since the romance is more heavily featured than the search for clues. However, if you like the combination of romance and mystery, this is a good read.

I received this book from Alibi for this review.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Delicious Recipes From the Ravens, a Vegan Resort

The Sanford Inn and resort is located in Mendocino, California. The setting, as seen from the pictures in the book, is spectacular. It would be a wonderful place to visit. However, if you are unable to make the trip, this cookbook is a good alternative.

The opening chapters tell the story of the owners, Jeff and Joan Sanford: how they discovered and bought the property, and their adventures turning it into an inn and fabulous restaurant. They share their philosophy of food which includes: using quality ingredients, taking care in the preparation, serving the dish beautifully, and making sure the taste is perfect. This is a formidable list, but the owners don't rest on their past successes. They are always trying new things and encouraging the staff to become part of the process.

If you are a vegan, or enjoy vegetarian dishes, this is an excellent cookbook. Some of the recipes are simple to prepare like my favorite, Ravens Frittata and Quiche. Others are more difficult and require an experienced cook, one who cares about taking time in food preparation.

I highly recommend this cookbook. Whether beginner cook or experienced chef there's something for everyone.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Victorian Romance in a Gothic Tale of Murder and Mystery

Jane Steele and her lovely French mother live in the guest house at Highgate instead of the main house. Jane's mother believes that Jane is the rightful heiress since her father was the older son, but Highgate has been usurped by her overbearing aunt and odious cousin. When her mother dies unexpectedly, Jane is placed more firmly under the thumb of her aunt who insists that Jane's rebellious grief stop. When Jane continues to frustrate her, the aunt sends her away to a dreadful school where she is in fear of her life.

Jane escapes from the school and lives a desperate life in London where she learns to use the knife she carries. Then she hears that her aunt is dead and Highgate has a new master who is seeking a governess. Jane applies and finds herself faced with romance and mystery.

The plot of this novel has many parallels to Jane Eyre. However, Jane Steele is a much different character. Jane Eyre criticized her society but her behavior was passive. Jane Steele is different. She acts and sometimes with murderous intent to right wrongs. I liked this active version of Jane.

The early chapters of the book reminded me of Dickens' scenes of the London underworld. The pace is fast and filled with strange characters. The second half of the novel focuses on the romance between Jane and Charles Thornfield, the new master of Highgate. The romance is well done and there is the mystery of Thornfield's past, but I found the opening chapters more interesting.

If you enjoy Victorian novels, or are a fan of Dickens and Bronte, this is a good read. Many interesting characters, a complex plot, and a heroine who isn't afraid to act.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teenage Rebellion in a Fundamentalist Mormon Community

Fifteen-year old Loretta hates her life in the fundamentalist Mormon community of which her family is a part. She dreams of escape. Although she's not ready to run, she spends her nights meeting Bradshaw, a gentile boy, and making out in his car. He urges her to go away with him, but she hesitates too long, and one night her father catches her crawling back in the window. He beats her, nails her window shut and marries her off to Dean, a man his own age, who has a wife and children.

Although trapped in her new life and repeatedly raped by her husband, Loretta still dreams of freedom and eventually makes her escape with Jason, Dean's teenage nephew. They take off looking for Dean's cache of gold.

This book is not easy to like. The Mormon characters are bigoted and self-righteous. Their treatment of Loretta is basically child abuse. Loretta is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but she comes across as calculating. Jason was more sympathetic, but not enough to carry the story.

The narrative is not always easy to follow. The story is told from the point of view of a shifting cast of characters including musings by Evel Knievel, which I thought added little to the plot. I felt sad for the people trapped in strict, humorless communities, but they weren't particularly sympathetic or likable.

I received the book from Penguin Books for this review.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Mystery in a Combat Unit in a Dangerous Outpost in Afghanistan

Lieutenant Black hates his desk job in an outpost in Afghanistan. He's so dissatisfied he's ready to get out of the Army. Then he gets, what seems him, the ultimate insult. He's sent to the farthest outpost to investigate what appears to be a minor incident. Some soldiers fired a warning shot that led to confrontation with the villagers.

When Black arrives, he realizes that his is no easy mission. The soldiers stationed in the outpost won't talk to him about the incident. He wants to get his job done and get out, but the more he investigates the more he realizes that something more than a minor confrontation is going on. He's being fed lies. He senses it, but uncovering the truth can have serious consequences even putting the the existence of the outpost at risk.

On the positive side, this book is filled with memorable characters from Lieutenant Black to the Sergeants like Merick and Caine and the villagers. The setting is well described. You actually feel like you're in Afghanistan. The military operations all have the ring of reality although I'm not an expert.

On the negative side, the plot is so convoluted that it's hard to follow. You do get a wrap-up at the end, but personally, I prefer a plot where I can see the twists leading somewhere.

It's a good war novel that gives you an appreciation of what it's like to serve in a country like Afghanistan. There are exciting battle scenes, and the Army dialog seems realistic. However, I felt the mystery was strained and interspersing Black's stream of consciousness with the narration was confusing.

I received this novel from Dutton for this review.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Victorian Era Mystery with a Lady Detective

After being let go by the New York Metropolitan Police Department when she successfully solved the Goodrich murder (first book in the series), Mary Handley decides to become a detective. With the help of her friend and employer, Lazlo, she sets up shop in a back room of Lazlo's book store where she works. Both she and Lazlo are pleased and surprised when a young woman comes into the store and hires Mary to find out what happened to her uncle who she believes was murdered many years ago. Mary eagerly accepts the challenge, and it leads her to investigate some of the prominent families in New York.

The case increases in scope when the young woman is murdered. Even though she no longer has a client, Mary vows to find the killer. Then in a surprising development, Mary acquires an assistant, George Vanderbilt. George gives Mary entre into the upper levels of society populated by the Carnegies and Rockafellers as well and the Vanderbilts. Although it crosses societal lines, George becomes infatuated with Mary and wants to marry her.

The case is full of twists and turns showing off Mary's detective skills at every new development. She's a good character, spunky and intelligent, a quality that wasn't encouraged in the Victorian Era. George Vanderbilt is also a good character, but it's hard to believe in his romance with Mary in that environment. The historical setting is well developed with many details about the New York takeover of Brooklyn.

I enjoyed the book. It's an easy read and the pace is good. If you enjoy historical mysteries, this is a good one.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

A Long Buried Mystery in an English Country Village

During WWII, a German fighter plane was shot down and landed in the Greenoak garden. The owner decided to bury the plane, since it couldn't be removed, but before the burial was complete, a wounded RAF pilot was pushed into the pit and died. The body lay undiscovered until it was unearthed during a garden renovation causing a stir among the townsfolk and leading to more problems as the inept inspector conducts the murder investigation.

Pru Parke and her husband, Christopher Pearse, are Living at Greenoak for a year at the invitation of Pru's employers who are away on an archaeological expedition. Pru is trying to connect with her brother, Simon, the head gardener at Greenoak. The siblings were raised apart and Simon finds it hard to forgive Pru for knowing both their parents.

Christopher has given up his job as CID Inspector in London and is working as a special constable in the village near Greenoak. He knows that his superior is not qualified for police work, but resists taking over the murder investigation because he doesn't want to overshadow the young man.

As if things couldn't get more complicated, Orlando, Christopher's nephew arrives for an extended stay. He's a computer whiz and is being punished for hacking into someone's personal files and publishing them on the internet. Orlando is supposed to be helping in the garden, but the rebellious teenager succeeds in making more work for Pru until the body appears and catches his interest.

This is a delightful and very English mystery filled with unusual characters and wonderful descriptions of the garden and surrounding village. Pru and Christopher are sympathetic characters. They are newly weds enjoying the luxury of Greenoaks until Orlando and the body turn up. Orlando is a typical teenager, curious and always hungry.

The mystery itself is not hard to figure out in less than half the book. However, it doesn't matter. It's fun to watch the townspeople's interactions and see the struggle between Pru and Simon as they try to overcome the past.

If you enjoy a cozy English mystery, this is a good one.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.