Zoo Station journeys to 1939 Berlin

From Soho Crime
From Soho Crime

Zoo Station by David Downing; first published in 2007 by Soho Press Inc.; Kindle price currently $1.99 (USD), paperback edition, list $9.99 (USD). Book 1 of a 6-book series.

Zoo Station introduces John Russell, a journalist whose policy of appeasing the Nazis in 1939 mirrors the policy of the politicians whose attempts to avoid a world war would soon fail.

Russell, a 40-year-old who freelances for newspapers around the world, has lost the youthful idealism that once led him to join the Communist Party, fight fascists in Spain, and write hard news without worrying about whom it might offend. Now, he plays it safe so he can remain in Berlin, where his young son, Paul, lives with his ex-wife and her second husband.

But nothing is safe in Nazi Germany, and Russell soon finds himself caught between his old comrades in Russia, his connections at the British Embassy and the Gestapo. The danger deepens when a fellow journalist enlists Russell’s help, then plunges to his death from the platform at the Zoo Station subway while gathering evidence of a Nazi plan to euthanize German children.

Soho Press provided an advanced reading copy of Zoo Station as part of its reading challenge celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller. Russell’s conflict between compromise and integrity while living under Nazi rule really reflects the conflict that paralyzed the politicians who tried throughout the 1930s. The result is a taut thriller that provides insights to a real struggle, as well as the fictional one.

Russell proves to be an honorable hero, an ordinary man who undertakes the extraordinary when faced with dangerous times in a dangerous place. I’m glad this was only the first book in a series, because I want to read more. If you like espionage thrillers, especially those set in Nazi Germany, I think you will, too.

NOTE: Sis received a complimentary copy of Zoo Station from Soho Press Inc. via NetGalley for her participation in the publisher’s 25th anniversary reading challenge.  Sis is grateful for the opportunity.

Description:  By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent over a decade in Berlin. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as World War II approaches, he faces having to leave his son as well as his girlfriend of several years, a beautiful German starlet. When an acquaintance from his old communist days approaches him to do some work for the Soviets, Russell is reluctant, but he is unable to resist the offer. He becomes involved in other dangerous activities, helping a Jewish family and a determined young American reporter. When the British and the Nazis notice his involvement with the Soviets, Russell is dragged into the murky world of warring intelligence services.

Soho Crime has been publishing atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world for the last 25 years. The publisher’s popular series take readers to France, China, England, Laos, Northern Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Denmark, and Palestine, among other locales, with entire range of crime fiction—detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, espionage novels, revenge novels, stories of thieves, assassins, and underworld mob bosses.


Saturday savings . . .

The Great War, WWII, and so much more

The Battle of the Somme, Britain’s bloodiest battle in all time, occurred 100 years ago, and the UK’s Endeavour Press marks the sacrifice with a sale on several books about the great battle and the Great War, most for a mere 99 cents (USD).  Other significant savings are available today, from biographies & memoirs to historical fiction set in World War II.  It’s a great day to have a Kindle!

SommeSubaltern on the Somme  is the memoir of a junior officer whose regiment suffered the heaviest casualties of any unit on the first day of the battle, with 70 percent killed or wounded.  Max Plowman, who served in the 10th Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment, tells the story of trench warfare from the perspective of a junior officer.

“The war of attrition” entered the military lexicon in 1916, and Attrition: The Great War on the Western Front by Robin Neillands explores the beginning of this new form of warfare.

At the start of 1916, the outlook was the Franco-British Armies on the AttritionWestern Front. They were getting the men and guns they needed. New technology in the shape of tanks and aircraft was about to appear and, after more than a year of fighting what amounted to private wars, the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Italy and their allies) were about to mount a number of co-ordinated offensives against the German and Austrian Armies, culminating in the Big Push – a joint Anglo-French offensive astride the Somme.

But then, unfortunately for the Allies, the Germans struck first, at Verdun. By New Years Day, 1916, the fighting on the Western Front had cost some two million lives – by the end of the year it had risen to four million men and the territorial gains had been negligible. Focusing on this crucial year, Neillands examines the actions of the principal commanders as they sought a way to win the war and opted for the deadly doctrine of attrition: the notion that it was only possible to win by killing a vast number of soldiers. The soldiers, German, French, British, Canadian, Australian, died in their hundreds of thousands at Verdun, along the Ancre and on the Pozieres ridge in the muddy fields above the Somme.

A controversial and compelling text, Attrition points at the failure of the high command to realise that until new offensive technology was invented to overcome the bias of defensive technology, the death toll could only rise, and asks why no system of Supreme Command was set up to handle the strategic direction of the war. Although 1916 did see some Allied success – the French held Verdun against the German assault, the British introduced the tank – when that fatal year ended, victory and peace were as far away as ever … and another two million lives had been lost.

Days to rememberDays to Remember explores the conflict in terms of Empire.  This is not merely the history of the Western Front, but the history of the colonials who fought, willingly or not, for the British Empire.

In this fascinating study, Henry Newbolt and John Buchan take a general overview of the First World War, from its causes to the aftermath, with the focus on the central role played by both Britain and its colonies. They cover the major campaigns on the Western Front – Ypres, Loos, Cambrai, Marrières Wood and the Marne, as well as the battles fought around the globe – in particular Galipolli and the capture of Jerusalem – and the main campaigns at sea.

Henry Newbolt was born in Wolverhampton in 1862, and went on to become a poet, novelist and historian. He was also a very powerful government adviser. John Buchan was a Scottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who also served as Governor General of Canada. During the First World War he worked for the British War Propaganda Bureau. He is most famous for his classic thriller, ‘The 39 Steps’.

Animal Heroes of the Great War is the history of the furred and feathered Animal Heroessoldiers, from beasts of burdens to mascots and messengers:

During the World War I nearly 70 million combatants served in the armies of all the countries and empires, but there was another army involved, one that is often overlooked in the history of war: The army of animals that supported the armies of men.

From regimental mascots to beasts of burden, animals played a vital part in the war machine of all involved, and often beyond anything we might imagine. There was man’s best friend — brave, loyal dogs who served as patrolmen, messengers, sentries, even combatants and detectives. Communication has increased importance in modern warfare, yet at times a homing pigeon’s instinct of orientation was the sole hope available to soldiers in the field. And despite the lowering esteem in which conventional cavalry was held, horses were still able to go where the most modern of vehicles could not.

Focusing on the Allied Powers, Ernest Harold Baynes tells of “the work done by animals in helping to win the war,” recording the services and sacrifices borne by these noble animals and more, including the advent of chemical warfare and what it meant.

Ernest Harold Baynes (1868-1925) was an American writer and naturalist. After reporting for The New York Times, he regularly contributed articles to other newspapers and to magazines. A natural with wild animals, he became known for hand-rearing, protecting and championing their cause. Animal Heroes of the Great War was his last book.

Her Privates WeErnest Hemingway praised Her Privates We as “The finest and noblest book of men at war.” The classic novel of the Great War is set during the Battle of the Somme.

Her Privates We follows the story of Private Bourne, an ordinary soldier dealing with extraordinary circumstances. It conveys the camaraderie and heroism of the trenches and also explores the terror and monotony of being a soldier. A cloud of fatalism hangs over the narrative, which is brightened up through friendships, a shared, grim sense of humour and colourful conversations between the privates.

Bourne and his comrades must fight their demons within, as well as the enemy across No Man’s Land. Men die, but still a sense of duty endures. Her Privates We is as much a triumph of realism as it is of the imagination. Readers of both military history, and literary fiction, will continue to be haunted by its prose and insights.

“The book of books so far as the British army is concerned” T.E Lawrence

Frederic Manning was an Australian-born poet and novelist who moved to England at the age of 21. Much of his writing was inspired by his experiences in the infantry during the Great War. Her Privates We remains his most enduring work on the subject.

Delville Wood is the history of the one of the most bitterly contested battlesDelville Wood on the Western Front and of the 3,200 soldiers of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade that entered the battle on 14 July 1916.  Fewer than 800 mustered afterwards.

For six days and five nights, in the solitary square mile of Delville Wood, the South Africans stood firm against three crack German divisions. By the time they were relieved a legend had been born, but who were these men that took and held the wood in an inferno of exploding shells, flame-throwers, machine-gun and rifle fire? Fresh-faced youths, Boer War and South West African campaign veterans, enlistees with false names … all were volunteers whose overriding desire was to serve in France.

First published in 1983, Delville Wood remains a landmark volume commemorating the daring and fortitude of South Africa’s soldiers at the Somme during the First World War. In forming an overall picture of each day’s fighting through the words of the survivors, the statistics of battle are cast aside by Uys in favour of something altogether more profound, exploring their characters and ensuring they will never be forgotten

Ian Uys (b. 1942) is a South African accountant and author. A co-founder of the Military Medal Society of SA and former committee member of the SA Military History Society — and related to a survivor of the battle of Delville Wood — his interests have led him to write many books on the subject.

And, finally, a profile of the Desert Fox, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel, Rommel’s Great War by Gordon Corrigan.Rommel

Born in 1891, Rommel did not come from a militaristic family, nor from the military stronghold of Prussia, but instead from a small town in southern Germany and son to a long line of schoolmasters. Initially he showed no inclination towards a military career with interests in physics and engineering, but his father pushed him towards the army.

He joined the army in 1910 at the age of eighteen, within one year he would rise to the rank of sergeant. As war broke out in Europe Rommel and his regiment marched out of the barracks to the sound of drums and cheering as they boarded the troop train to the western front.

Gordon Corrigan provides expert analysis of World War I, both in terms of what it would have been like for a young officer like Rommel as well as the wider political and militaristic movements that were occurring at this time. This thoroughly researched profile gives fascinating detail on Rommel’s life, from when he was first shot and wounded in trench warfare, his experience of combat in the Romanian mountains and on the Italian front, through to his life after the war in the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic. It was in these years that the Desert Fox learned his trade and forged into Rommel such a formidable opponent during the Second World War.

Beyond the ShadowMoving forward to World War II, today brings what is likely to be a short-term offer of Beyond the Shadow of War, the long awaited sequel to Diane Moody’s bestselling Of Windmills and War (currently, $4.99 USD).

When the war finally ended in May of 1945, Lieutenant Danny McClain made good on his promise to come back for Anya in Holland. He expected her to put up a fight, but instead found her exhausted and utterly broken. Maybe it was unfair, asking her to marry him when she was so vulnerable. But this much he knew: he would spend a lifetime helping to make her whole again.

The war had taken everything from Anya–her family, her friends, her home, her faith. She clung to the walls she’d fortressed around her heart, but what future did she have apart from Danny? At least she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Or so she thought. When the American troops demobilize, Danny is sent home, forced to leave Anya behind in England. There she must wait with the other 70,000 war brides for passage to America. As England picks up the pieces of war’s debris in the months that follow, Anya shares a flat with three other war brides in London and rediscovers the healing bond of friendships.

Once again, Danny and Anya find themselves oceans apart, their marriage confined to little more than the handwritten pages of their letters while wondering if the shadow of war will ever diminish.

Enjoy!

Saturday savings . . .

Flames over France

I love bargain books – they feed my need to read without breaking my budget – and I’ve picked up a number of first-rate reads for less than a dollar and several for nothing. I also love to share my finds with my friends, and I want to share them with my readers . . . which is easy when it’s a book I’ve already read but not so easy when it is a book I haven’t read because these offers are usually limited, often for a day or so. What a dilemma! So, here’s my solution:  I’ll try posting some, like this one, where I’ve only read a sample but which are offered by publishers that I have found to be reliable or are recommended by others I have found to be reliable, when I can’t find one I have read and can recommend.

Let me know what you think.  Your feedback will help me decide whether to make this a regular feature or to stick with reviewing books I have had time to read and review.

Flames over FranceFlames over France by Robert Jackson, 224 pp.; Kindle edition published by Endeavour Press in 2016; originally published by Severn House in 1997.  Endeavour’s 99-cent Deal of the Week (99 pence in the UK).

Book description:  May 1940: Flight Lieutenant Ken Armstrong is deployed to an airfield in France. His arrival coincides with Hitler’s invasion of France and the Low Countries. He picks up victory after victory but nothing he can do will be enough to turn the tide. Armstrong befriends the pilots he fights beside but is forced to watch them drop out of the sky each day. The battle for France will be lost. But that doesn’t mean the war is over. Armstrong and his men are determined to fight tooth and nail against impossible odds. In this tale of dignity and bravery when all hope seems lost, Armstrong must do what needs to be done. As a former pilot and Squadron Leader himself, Robert Jackson masters the plot and brings history to life in fantastic detail. This is the second novel to feature the charismatic Flight Lieutenant Ken Armstrong, following on from Flames over Norway.

Endeavour Press is an independent digital publisher in the United Kingdom, and, while not every book published coincides with Sis’s personal taste, she has found all of them to be well-written and well-edited. The publisher’s free weekly newsletter provides information on a variety of discounted and free ebooks each week.  Readers can sign up to receive the newsletter at www.endeavourpress.com.

About the Author:  Robert Jackson (b. 1941) is a prolific author of military and aviation history, having become a full-time writer in 1969. As an active serviceman in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve he flew a wide range of aircraft, ranging from jets to gliders.


Broken Angels, a WWII historical novel, released Tuesday

Recommended, with reservations

Broken AngelsBroken Angels is an ambitious, and somewhat successful, attempt to capture the pathos of a man, a woman and a child whose lives and souls are battered against the backdrop of World War II and the ruthless regime that swept across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Ambitious, because Gemma Liviero defies convention to tell the story in the present tense with alternating points of view.  Somewhat successful, because this device feels contrived – and because none of the characters develop a distinctive voice.  The point of view alternates with the chapters, each character narrating in turn, but the style of speech, of thought, of description remains too constant, to unchanging, to reflect the change of perspectives that each character could, and ideally would, provide.

Most readers will have to work a bit to stay in the story.  Those who never tire of reading about the men, women and children whose lives were broken but whose spirits were never destroyed by the evil of this era won’t object and should be willing to follow these lives in their search for redemption.  Those who demand much more may not be so satisfied.

NOTE:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review.  She asserts that not only has no one influenced her opinions, no one has even attempted to do so.

From the publisher:  A Nazi doctor. A Jewish rebel. A little girl. Each one will fight for freedom—or die trying.

Imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto, Elsi discovers her mother’s desperate attempt to end her pregnancy and comes face-to-face with the impossibility of their situation. Risking her own life, Elsi joins a resistance group to sabotage the regime.

Blonde, blue-eyed Matilda is wrenched from her family in Romania and taken to Germany, where her captors attempt to mold her into the perfect Aryan child. Spirited and brave, she must inspire hope in the other stolen children to make her dreams of escape a reality.

Willem, a high-ranking Nazi doctor, plans to save lives when he takes posts in both the ghetto and Auschwitz. After witnessing unimaginable cruelties, he begins to question his role and the future of those he is ordered to destroy.

While Hitler ransacks Europe in pursuit of a pure German race, the lives of three broken souls—thrown together by chance—intertwine. Only love and sacrifice might make them whole again.

About the author:  Gemma Liviero holds an advanced diploma of arts in professional writing, and she has worked as a copywriter, a corporate writer, and a magazine feature writer and editor. She is the author of the historical fiction novel Pastel Orphans, a coming-of-age story set in 1930s Berlin, as well as two gothic fantasies, Lilah and Marek. Broken Angels is her second historical novel. She now lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and two children.

Available in paperback, $14.95 (USD), and Kindle ebook, $5.99 (USD) — add Audible narration for $1.99. Also available with Kindle Unlimited.


Toward Night’s End, a Friday freebie

by M.H. Sargent — highly recommended

Kindle edition free today
Kindle edition free today

This historical novel of Japanese-American honor and patriotism opens on March 30, 1942, with the evacuation of more than 250 Japanese-Americans living on Bainbridge Island, in Puget Sound, Washington. The process had been going smoothly when the Army discovers that a 21-year old Japanese-American fisherman, Matthew Kobata, is missing. During their search for Matthew, two Caucasian men are found murdered on the island. Seattle detective Elroy Johnstone has come to the island to investigate the murders, and evidence leads him to suspect Matthew may be involved. But he is one step behind as Matthew escapes on his fishing boat. With Matthew now emerging as the prime suspect in the murders, the detective’s investigation then takes him to Seattle where another murder has occurred. This time a Japanese-American.

Complicating matters, the coroner finds that both the Japanese-American and one of the Caucasian men have identical tattoos, both on the left ankle. But what do these tattoos mean? And who has killed these three men? Matthew? And if so, why? And most important, where is Matthew? Johnstone’s investigation will take him from Seattle’s Naval Air Station to the Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California, and back to Bainbridge Island. And, although he doesn’t know it, the clock is ticking and a countdown is in place for an event that could result in the unthinkable taking place Toward Night’s End.

A beautiful blend of historical fiction, literary fiction and WWII mystery/thriller . . .

Toward Night’s End is one of those novels that is so well-written that I found it hard to believe it is available free. It would be a bargain at its list price of $2.99, and I’d have happily forked over for a hardbound version if that had been my only choice.  Yet, I downloaded it for free, and it is free again today (but please verify before “buying” as Amazon’s prices are always subject to change without notice).

The novel, based on a true story, is set in the months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and around the forced internment of Japanese immigrants and their Japanese-American children and grandchildren, centering on the family of Matthew Kobata, who disappears in the hours before his family was ordered to leave their home on a Washington island and report for internment at Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

My beautiful mom-by-marriage and her family were interred, forced from their home in Stockton, CA, to end up, eventually, in Arkansas. Her experience — and the experience of my aunts-by-marriage — piqued my interest in this novel, as much, if not more, than my enjoyment of mysteries.

Toward Night’s End is at once a work of literary fiction, a mystery, and a World War II novel. It’s beautifully written, and beautifully told, dwelling on the love of country both of those who chose to be Americans and those whose families have been Americans for more than two generations, as well as the betrayal of country.

M.H. Sargent is also the author of the CIA thriller MP-5 series Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot To Die For, Operation Spider Web, The Yemen Connection and Alliance of Evil.

Click to download Toward Night’s End