Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Hummingbird Wizard by Meredith Blevins

reviewed by e-reader
by Meredith Blevins

Wow, this book almost wore me out! Fasten your seatbelts, you're in for a wild ride! The characters are fun to read, always plotting against each other or with each other, characters you won't readily forget. This mixed Gypsy and non-Gypsy family is fascinating to follow. Full-blown life and sudden death; a dose of magic and the paranormal mixed through the plot. Who is the mysterious Hummingbird Wizard? Gypsy lore, bit of culture mixed in. This is a story to keep one glued to the pages. Meredith Blevins has given us a remarkable roller-coaster of love, murder and deceit. It is also a very full story with a lot going on throughout. The matriarch is fully in control, fierce but full of life. A true gypsy fortune-teller and a woman of many surprises, she is a bundle of conflicting emotions and brings the reader into them like a moth to flame. So many twists I got dizzy. The interaction between Madame Mina and Annie Szabo, the mother-in-law and the widowed daughter-in-law, is a tug-of-war of feelings. I don't believe I've ever read a story like it. It grips you and doesn't let you go. First in the Annie Szabo Mystery Series, and I think I'll be back for the second.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

War, Spies and Bobby Sox - Stories About World War II at Home

reviewed from e-reader
by Libby Fischer Hellmann

The first part of this book was amazing, and the rest of the book ran true to its beginnings! It is very suspenseful, very well-written, and though fiction, is full of factual occurrences or persons. I don't speak of just the beginning of the book, as it is really three stories of war, so I find it easier to concentrate on each separately. Nevertheless, the whole is still wartime in terms of WWII, and how those at home cope, or often don't. These are the times I grew up in. Those of us old enough to recall what it was like growing up in the troubled times of the 1930s and 1940s, then in the mid '40s through the 1950's the beginning of the nuclear age with all the fears and the famous "duck and cover". The terror inflicted by the armed forces, FBI, CIA, and other organizations that your neighbors may be Communists and should be reported. This chapter in history turned innocent people into spies and this theme runs throughout the stories. But I digress, simply because this book is so close to home, the memories flow.

Libby Fischer Hellman has dug deeply into that dark pit where one enemy infiltration, particularly the Nazis, leaves off and another, Communism arrives. It is also the beginnings of nuclear experiments. And so we begin, following the life of one Jewish girl, Lena, whose family is among those who are seeking asylum in other countries. Sent to live with relatives in America, she never hears from her parents again. Libby starts the story fairly close to the time the United States came into the war, particularly into the 1940s of Rosie the Riveter, European countries gobbled up, women desperate for love and families, but we also find that there are spies. These covert infiltrators seek to enlist people to spy for them, report to them, give them intel, but never let their chosen know who they are really working for. Lena has been working in the Physics Dept. in the university, who better to induct? She has a young child, she is poor, she is alone, working where the early development of splitting atoms is going on. Of course she has been sworn to secrecy in her job, who better to train as a spy? The events in this section of the book are very close to reality. Especially what she is spying on. I found this book to be a very honest fiction if such can be said. Lena is trained under threat, becomes a very good spy but does have some tricks up her sleeve, too, if it weren't for an additional demand for her to spy on the spy, more or less. Who is spying for whom? A shockingly big twist near the end of this part. This first section of the book I will leave here, the reader must enjoy the suspense for themselves. I am moving into the second part.

This is what this book is about, life for those left behind whether Jews seeking asylum, families receiving letters that their loved ones have been killed, teens trying to handle blossoming sexually, living on farms where POWs come to work. The latter certainly applies to Mary-Catherine, who is at the heart of "what happens in rural America". The war has basically ended against the Nazis, though some Nazi POWs don't believe it; but the attack on Pearl Harbor has turned the world against Japan and sped up the race to splitting the atom. The world was ripe for picking. Spies and counter-spies played a huge part at this time. This section features a young farm girl and POWs who come to work under guard on the farm. Mary-Catherine's father is still fighting in the Battle of Midway. As the family, mother, two young children and a beautiful teen-age girl, hear a truck rumble in they come to see what is happening. The mother gives her assent to the guard for the prisoners to work on harvesting the crops. The prisoners are a mixed group, German soldiers, SS, Nazis, even intel; some arrogant, some friendly, some unscrupulous, at least one honest; and any of them can be enemies still, spies, especially one prisoner who is a loyal Nazi. A fight between prisoners of different factions, a lockdown, a murder, an accident; and a disgraced daughter is sent away. Another glimpse of what can and will happen when consorting with the enemy. They've had time to think and plot escape. A short story, but very honest in what could and often did happen post-war. This story was compelling and sad, taking place entirely in Illinois.

Now we come to another side on the home front. The day Miriam Hirsch disappeared. Two boys from different parts of Chicago; Jake Forman in Hyde Park, a German Jew and Barney Teitelman in Lawndale, the Jewish neighborhood on Chicago's West Side whose family was from Russia or Lithuania. The families are opposites in most ways, but the boys remain best friends. It was in Lawndale where they first see Miriam, beautiful, an actress, probably a German Jew. Next they knew, Skull, a low-level gangster, began to be seen with her. The area they were in, where Barney lived, was composed of gangs, though protective. Irish street gangs, Nazi sympathizers, and Skull, casino owner. Jake was devastated to see them together. Then comes an evening when he and Barney overhear Miriam tell Skull that she "...won't do it. Stop asking me." The conversation carries on in much the same tone, Skull wanting some information, pleading with her. Did she agree finally? He is hugging her, but they don't hear an answer. After that night they never saw her with Skull again. Her routines were different. Skull tries to hire the boys to work for him. And here we come full circle again. No trust, become an informant, murder, but the real common denominator is hatred and suspicion. All the parts of the whole. A novel that seems more like the truth. Lives lost, conspiracies grow, threats become reality. This book is truly exceptional, three parts of a whole. One of the best. Libby, you've done it again.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

No Darker Place - a Shades of Death novel by Debra Webb

published by MIRABooks
written by Debra Webb

There is no darker place than the mind of a serial killer.

Tension started mounting the minute I started reading this book by Debra Webb. I'm not sure I can take a breather, I know I will become deeply involved in the story. Bobby Gentry, police officer, is the first survivor of kidnapping and torture by the Storyteller, a serial killer who normally sticks to a once-a-year killing. Since he met Bobby, once a year was no longer the case. How could he carry on with the same timing once she had escaped? Even after he killed her husband and her baby died. Bobby's long healing physically and mentally is still taking its toll on her when she is finally allowed back in the force. This is a story of revenge. She believes it is "her" case and wants to solve it herself, taking extreme chances, trying to draw him out of the woodwork so to speak. Her prime objective is to kill him. She knows he will be waiting for her. Now she fears he has taken the nurse who treated her. She knows that he will commit the same horrors on Gwen as he did to her. There is no darker place than the mind of a serial killer.

Who is the stranger who is hunting the killer? He seems to have been stalking him for a very long time, but he is not with the police nor the FBI. Although both groups are aware of him and his search, no one knows who he is. This is a very tense and well-written thriller, The first book by Debra Webb that I have read and it's a killer, metaphorically speaking. As always, there is a back story that is as horrific as the present; and indeed the back story here runs true to form. Now Bobby's biggest nightmare is coming to life. A sudden shock of fear as women begin to arrive at the police station asking for Detective Bobby Gentry and bringing with them photos of their children who have suddenly gone missing. This is one of the Shades of Death novels and it definitely fits this novel. There are many shades of death. There is so much included in this storyline, victims of illness, accident, and yes, definitely murder, but not your normally quick and deadly murder. Enough to make your toes curl and your heart pound. Who can outwit and remove the Storyteller before he can claim Bobby once again?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Paying Back the Dead - a Millerfield Village mystery

reviewed from e-reader
author Carrie Marsh

Who killed the taxman?

Imagine the pleasant surprise of hearing one is going to get a rebate when they are simply expecting to pay their taxes. Top this off with finding out the consultant she is about to see is the husband of her mother's cousin. Cousin Judy. A relative they had lost contact with over a number of years. In this delightful British series, unfortunately this reunion was not to be, at least not today. Instead, Laura will be seeing a different consultant. After an hour she finds herself a few hundred pounds richer heading home.

Laura has a special bond with her pet cat, it's as though they are able to communicate almost as two humans. I enjoyed the connection between the two. A most communicative feline at that. I have to say besides Laura, the best character and most fun is Monty the cat. I love the setting of this book, I feel connected somewhat, living in the country by a small town myself, though I've never found a body, which is something that just happened at the very bank she came from. Who would kill the husband of her newly discovered relative, even if he wasn't well-liked? Clues are found, suggesting murder, but very strange. As always, I like to learn something new, and the probable cause of death gave me that. A slight nod to Romeo & Juliet when our star-crossed lovers can't get a moment to themselves because of the case. How can Howard help Laura solve the case when the police keep her on such a tight rein? When Laura meets Judy at a tea, she feels extreme sadness in Judy's life. What will happen now to Laura's cousin Judy and her children?

There seems to be a slight lull toward the middle of the book, but when Laura gets a feeling of being watched and unexplained break-ins happen, it takes on a more sombre feel. Who is stalking her? It feels like even the police are involved in the mystery, and there is slow progress on the murder. Why is a famous person who supposedly left the village the day before in a hurry still there? Who is with her? A very interesting and enjoyable cosy mystery with an unexpected twist; I look forward to reading more by Carrie Marsh. I usually read more serious mysteries, but enjoy dipping into a cosy as well, especially those with unique twists. This one makes me want to backtrack and read the previous ones. Besides, I've fallen in love with Monty!