Monday, February 19, 2024

Review: Blood Roses by Douglas Jackson

Synopsis: As the Nazis roll into Warsaw, a serial killer is unleashed…

September 1939. A city ruled by fear. A population brutalized by restrictions and reprisals. Amid the devastation, another hunter begins to prowl. What are a few more deaths amid scores of daily executions?

Former chief investigator Jan Kalisz lives a dangerous double life, forced to work with the occupiers as he gathers information for the fledgling Polish resistance. Even his family cannot be told his true allegiance.

When the niece of a Wehrmacht general is found terribly mutilated, Jan links the murder to other killings that are of less interest to his new overlords. Soon, he finds himself on the trail of a psychopathic killer known as The Artist. But, shunned as a Nazi collaborator, can he solve the case before another innocent girl is taken?

~ ~ ~

My initial thoughts upon immediately finishing this book were that it was:
  • well written
  • evocative
  • engaging
  • great read
  • start of a thrilling new series
  • and I was left wanting more

This thriller is set at the time of the Invasion of Poland by German, Russian and Slovak forces (1 September 1939 - 5 October 1939). Polish forces were stretched thinly along defensive lines, and supply lines were poorly protected. Although the Polish military had prepared for conflict, the civilian population remained largely unprepared. The German invasion saw atrocities committed against Polish men, women and children. The German forces (both SS and the regular Wehrmacht) murdered tens of thousands of Polish civilians.  The Leibstandarte SS were notorious throughout the campaign for burning villages and committing atrocities in numerous Polish towns, including massacres. A campaign of ethnic cleansing was organized by multiple elements of the German government, resulting in tens of thousands of Polish civilians being shot at 760 mass execution sites by the Einsatzgruppen.

On October 30, 1939, Higher SS and Police Leader in General Government Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger ordered the mobilization of the pre-war Polish police into the service of the German authorities. The policemen were to report for duty or face severe punishment. The main reason for the restoration of the Polish police was the inability to maintain order under wartime conditions, the lack of knowledge of the Polish language by German policemen, as well as the undecided fate of the occupied Polish lands, the formation of the so-called residual state, Reststaat, was still under consideration.  The police was finally formed on December 17, 1939, by order of Governor General Hans Frank.

Into this turmoil falls Jan Kalisz - a patriotic soldier and police officer of the pre-war Polish Police Force. Wounded in action against the Germans, Kalisz is visited in hospital, in secret, and is made an offer - one he cannot really refuse - and one that must remain secret from all, including work colleagues and his family. Thus Kalisz leads a double life - as a collaborating police officer and a supporter of the fledgling Polish resistance.

Investigating a series of (at first) seemingly unconnected murders, Kalisz is brought into the fold of the Germans and is eventually paired with the lawyer, Ziegler. However, Kalisz soon comes to the realisation that solving the mystery of the serial killer known as The Artist may cost him both personally and professionally.

There is a cadre of writers who set their protagonist in these same times - Furst, Kerr, Gardner - and Jackson slots in nicely. Suffice to say, this first in a series does not disappoint. Highly Recommended.

Next in the series:
  • Blood Uprising
  • Blood Vengeance
  • Blood Enemy

Review: Bury The Lead by Hilton & Renzetti

Synopsis: A big-city journalist joins the staff of a small-town paper in cottage country and finds a community full of secrets … and murder.

Cat Conway has recently returned to Port Ellis to work as a reporter at the Quill & Packet . She’s fled the tattered remains of her high-profile career and bad divorce for the holiday town of her childhood, famous for its butter tarts, theatre, and a century-old feud. One of Cat’s first assignments is to interview legendary actor Eliot Fraser, the lead in the theatre’s season opener of Inherit the Wind . When Eliot ends up dead onstage on opening night, the curtain rises on the sleepy town’s secrets. The suspects include the actor whose career Eliot ruined, the ex-wife he betrayed, the women he abused, and even the baker he wronged.

With the attention of the world on Port Ellis, this story could be Cat’s chance to restore her reputation. But the police think she’s a suspect, and the murderer wants to kill the story―and her too. Can Cat solve the mystery before she loses her job or becomes the next victim of a killer with a theatrical bent for vengeance?

~ ~ ~

"The whole town was like a giant murder mystery game, 
except with real weapons, and real blood."

The murder of the lead actor in a local production sets local tongues wagging as the past intrudes on the present - much to the chagrin of those involved.  And for one, murder is seen as the best way to keep the past (dead and) buried. 

After a slow start, things finally start to pick up once the investigation into the murder, by Cat and the rest of the local paper's editorial team, gets under way.

There is the proverbial cast of characters - from the local towns' people to the actors themselves - all with links to the dead man.  The narrative is nicely paced with character development established enough with the potential for further exploration in future books.

All in all an enjoyable read and the potential start of a new series ...

Review: Forgive Me by Joy Ellis

This story is about a suicide that is attended by a pair of police officers. They are confronted by a suicide note asking for forgiveness.

The remarks of the leading female officer - PC Yvonne Collins - is that there is something nasty or suspicious about the dead man, identified as Arthur Sims. However, the younger male officer - PC Jamie Smith - thinks otherwise. 

The dead man’s neighbors and acquaintances said that he was a good man, but the senior officer continues with her doubts. 

The younger officer takes it upon himself to investigate the man and his past. As he digs deeper - the mystery comes full circle with a plot twist that will delight (??) the reader.

This short story is my first from book by Joy Ellis that I have read - however, she is now on my radar!

Review: For The Want Of Silver by Michael E Wills

Synopsis: A novel based on the true story of a Viking raider who, over 30 years, acquired a fortune in English silver.

In the churchyard of the village of Orkesta, just north of the city of Stockholm, there are two eleventh century rune stones. One of them, in a few brief words, tells the world of the extraordinary achievements of Ulf of Borresta, who lived nearby. During a long career as a Viking raider, he became extremely rich on the proceeds of extortion: Danegeld. The carved runes mention the names of real Norse historical figures with whom he ravaged the English countryside. These names can be dated and the vicious raids and bloody battles where the Danegelds were won, identified.

~ ~ ~

Historical fiction account of Ulf of Borresta, a real historical viking who "lived and fought to satisfy the want of silver". We begin with the aged Ulf reflecting on his youth and the events that lead him to where he currently is.

The narration covers Ulf's youth and his adventures as part of the armies invading England in the 10th century.

Much more can be read about Ulf here @ Wikipedia

This for me was a quick and easy read, which I personally thought was perfect for a young adult reading market. It is a stand alone read - and was was pleasing to see an "unknown" historical figure being given a new lease on life.

Review: Women of the Irish Rising by Michael Hogan

Synopsis: This is the story of the women who put their lives on the line for Irish freedom. They were not only the nurses, cooks, and couriers, but also gunrunners, sharpshooters, and organizers. Many who barely received mention in mainstream histories are fully revealed here both in their own words and by those who witnessed their incredible courage and leadership.

Over 250 women took part in the Irish Rising, more than 70 were imprisoned, and one was sentenced to death by the British. The struggle was initially betrayed by a conservative government which compromised their rights to equality, but women were finally vindicated in recent years.

Now the fight for distributive justice and the unity of the entire nation, original goals of the Easter Rising, have passed to the present generation.

~ ~ ~

This is exactly what it sets out to be - an easy to follow account of the women who were participants - combatants, auxiliaries, medics - in the events of the East Rising in Ireland in 1916. Hogan links these women directly with the events of the Rising as they played out. These women were active in their roles not just voices of support. And it should be noted that out of all the male leaders, it was only De Valera who refused to have women in his contingent.

The Easter Rising was an Irish republican insurrection against British government in Ireland, which began on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, in Dublin. The uprising was planned to be nationwide in scope, but a series of mishaps led to its being confined to Dublin alone - the British had discovered the plans, leaders were arrested and planned action was called off. Following a forces surrender, Pearse and 14 other leaders of the rebellion were court-martialed and executed by British authorities in the weeks that followed. Though the uprising itself had been unpopular with most of the Irish people, these executions excited a wave of revulsion against the British authorities and turned the dead republican leaders into martyred heroes.

Of the 250 or so women who participated, 79 received sentences of imprisonment - and some of deportation.  Only one - Constance Markiewicz - received a court marital and death penalty (later commuted to imprisonment). The first fatality of the Irish Rising was a nurse - Margaret Keogh. And it was nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell who, under constant fire from the British, delivered the order to surrender to the Volunteers.

Of the women included by Hogan, some of the roles consisted of: gun-running, financial support, medical support, communications, military combatants, and training. The women in the 1916 Rising represented a cross-section of Irish society - single and married, from different religious denominations and social strata, and they included an actress, nurses, a doctor, a noblewoman, shop-assistants, seamstresses, feminists and pacifists.

The majority of the women were supporters and / or actively involved in the suffrage movement and of Cumann na mBan (Women's Guard), or were themselves members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or the Irish Civilian Army.

Many documented their experiences during the Rising and beyond, and continued to be active in both the womens' suffrage movement and the struggle for a free Ireland. Notwithstanding their most active roles in the Rising, womens' rights were largely forgotten (despite promises to the contrary contained in the Proclamation). Their roles were severely restricted under Eamon de Valera (who as noted above, refused to have them in his contingent).

These women were deserving of more than just a mere footnote in the history books, and Hogan concludes with a further discussion on womens' rights, and the meaning of the Rising and the role of women which was - and still is - only imperfectly understood.

A valuable resource for further study and research for those with a deep interest in their particular period of history. Highly recommended reading - and a great addition to my own personal library.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Review: Fool by Peter K Andersson

Synopsis: The first biography of Henry VIII’s court fool William Somer, a legendary entertainer and one of the most intriguing figures of the Tudor age.

In some portraits of Henry VIII there appears another, striking figure―a gaunt and morose-looking man with a shaved head and, in one case, a monkey on his shoulder. This is William or "Will" Somer, the king’s fool, a celebrated wit who reportedly could raise Henry’s spirits and spent many hours with him, often alone. Was Somer an “artificial fool,” a cunning comic who could speak freely in front of the king, or a “natural fool,” someone with intellectual disabilities, like many other members of the profession? And what role did he play in the tumultuous and violent Tudor era? Fool is the first biography of Somer―and perhaps the first of a Renaissance fool.

After his death, Somer disappeared behind his legend, and historians struggled to separate myth from reality. Unearthing as many facts as possible, Peter K. Andersson pieces together the fullest picture yet of an enigmatic and unusual man with a very strange job. Somer’s story provides new insights into how fools lived and what exactly they did for a living, how monarchs and courtiers related to commoners and people with disabilities, and whether aspects of the Renaissance fool live on in the modern comedian. But most of all, we learn how a commoner without property or education managed to become the court’s chief mascot and a continuous presence at the center of Tudor power from the 1530s to the reign of Elizabeth I.

Looking beyond stereotypes of the man in motley, Fool reveals a little-known world, surprising and disturbing, when comedy was something crueler and more unpleasant than we like to think.

~ ~ ~

A strictly academic work that is neither a standard nor chronological biography on this rather enigmatic character from Tudor history.

With the use of contemporaneous sources and comparisons outside of the Tudor court, Andersson explores to what extent was the fool a servant or a courtier. Andersson also acknowledges that there is too little information on the actual man - Will Somer - for the reader to gain any real insight into him - what we know is based upon scant administration records of the Tudor period.

I came into this wanting to know more, but came away no closer to finding any real substance to the real man. I have given it three stars are this looks to be the first - for me anyway - real attempt to put some flesh on the bones of an elusive historical person. However, for my mind, this particular work is more of an exploration into the perception and the role of the fool and comedy during the early renaissance period.

Definitely one for those with an interest in the Tudor and Elizabethan courts.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Review: Showbiz Cakes & Deadly Slices by Amber Crewes

Synopsis: This is a short prequel that introduces the Sandy Bay Cozy Mystery series.

Meghan Truman always had a dream to become a Hollywood actress. Hollywood decided she wasn’t good enough. She left Hollywood broken but with a burning desire to start afresh in the Pacific Northwest, pursuing her second dream – opening a bakery.

~ ~ ~

This is the story - aspiring actress Meghan is passing around cakes at the studio where she worked - a big star is murdered and she, of course, becomes the prime suspect. Meghan and her best friend Karen investigate and the mystery is solved. As a result, Meghan decides Hollywood isn't at all for her and plans on leaving to start her bakery career. Best friend and neighbour Karen suggests ... Sandy Bay.

Nice set up for the fourteen books that make up this series.

Review: Donuts & Disaster by Amber Crewes

Synopsis: Meghan Truman’s relationship with her assistant is severely tested when she becomes prideful over a donut recipe she’s introduced to Truly Sweet’s menu. Matters are further worsened when a distant relative of this assistant, with selfish intentions and bad manners, is found dead in the town center.The local handyman is arrested and put in jail when several witnesses confirm they saw him having an altercation with the murdered victim. Handsome detective Irvin and Meghan believe he’s innocent but the evidence against him is too damning to overlook.

Will Meghan’s attempt to give her assistant a second chance at restoring their relationship backfire or will a determination not to harbor unforgiveness in her heart lead her to the true murderer?

~ ~ ~

Okay - so as this is number four in the Sandy Bay cosy series of fourteen, a little background.

Meghan Truman always had a dream to become a Hollywood actress. Hollywood decided she wasn’t good enough. She left Hollywood to start afresh in the Pacific Northwest, pursuing her second dream – opening a bakery.

It was not hard to pick up four books in as the backstory is mentioned. Not a particularly labourious read - a nice way to while away a few hours in the sun.

Review: Chevauchee by Ian Cooper

Synopsis: A chevauchée is nothing more than a raid, designed to punish as much as for plunder. Sir Thomas has seen it all, and lived to tell the tale. The withered old man was a vigorous knight and a pillar of the community, with his wife and sons gone before him. Sir Thomas Jolly is on his deathbed. Father Hardie is there at his side, to give him the last rites, to offer comfort and solace and to listen, as Thomas opens up about his feelings, possibly for the first time in many years. A short story of The Hundred Years War.

~ ~ ~

This is a brief story of a young man's initiation into the harsh realities of war (in Nantes), with Sir Thomas Jolly recounting events on his deathbed to one Father Hardie, who is present to give him the last rights.

A fair story with a rather abrupt ending.