Suzy Henderson, The Beauty Shop
World War II Romance
Archie McIndoe, John (Mac) Mackenzie and Stella Charlton are the main protagonists in Suzy Henderson’s WWII novel. The ‘beauty shop’ refers to the Guinea Pig Club and gives its readers a different viewpoint of the horrors happening during the Second World War, presenting the pilots who become casualties, with horrific burns, often permanent damage to their appearance, and, in many cases, their mental well-being. A New Zealand plastic surgeon, Archibald (the Maestro) McIndoe does wonders in restorative surgery at East Grinstead, the home of the 91st Bomb Group.
From the start, Stella is torn between her proposed fiancé and the American pilot she meets, doing service at close to the airfield. Mac falls for her the moment he sets eyes on her. He admires her integrity but can help to pursue her regardless of her prior ties. Stella’s doubts about her fiancé become pressing, especially because Mac shows her admiration as well as understanding.
The Beauty Shop is not only a romance, but it gives insight into the horror of war. Ms Henderson describes war action in all its aspects when the crew can return after a successful drop, and the anguish they live though when things go wrong. This is a realistic but touching read that leaves the reader wondering about human folly. Highly recommended.
Pearl Tate, Bren’s Blessing
Erotic Sci-Fi Novella
Hannah is a high-ranking scientist on a solitary mission to Mars. Bren is a commander of one of many spaceships that circle the universe. Bren’s world is stagnating, due to infertility. This is a female-led world where the males must share married life with several other males. Procreation can only be achieved by insemination. These are the premises for an outer space romp that involves numerous erotic scenes and an exploding spaceship, Hannah’s.
Conquered by the aliens and taken aboard their ship, she realizes that she has become a slave. At the same time, she feels exceedingly attracted to the seven feet tall Bren, who claims ownership over her. In a mindbogglingly fast courtship, the two come together – and it becomes clear that Bren has dreamed of his human mistress for a long time. Their bonding is instant – and politically incorrect.
Pearl Tate pulls all erotic stops.
Mary Anne Yarde, The Du Lac Chronicles
Medieval Fantasy with a Dash of Mythology.
We are in post-Arthurian times, the Roman influence is still to be found, but the Saxon impact is strengthening. Alden, Eighteen-year-old king of Cerwin and a younger son of Lancelot Du Lac, was defeated and captured by Cerdic of Wessex. Alden has been lashed to within an inch of his life. He will be executed on the morning – but Annis of Wessex, daughter of Cerdic, has other ideas. She rescues Alden – and this is where the narrative begins.
Mary Anne Yarde weaves a tale of intrigue and violence, romance, and myth. There are vivid characters to love or hate – beautiful descriptions and excellent dialogue. All in all, there is everything that befits a historical fantasy. We are in safe hands, Ms Yarde knows how to create a believable web and hold a reader’s attention. The only thing that mars the reading experience, in my opinion, might be a moot point, but it needs a mention. So many series leave the story with an obvious hook. That means the novel has no true ending, which may fit other genres, but in this case, I at least long for closure. At 317 pages, the book isn’t too long to bring this chronicle to a more satisfying end.
Ellie Midwood, The Lyon Affair
French Resistance WWII Drama
A resistance-conspirator’s life is never simple. In The Lyon Affair, Ellie Midwood shows many aspects of the drama, the uncertainty, and the crises that can mar or make their existence. To survive, it is necessary to leave behind name and identity. It doesn’t end there; the resistance operator must learn to stay silent and detached. That is what becomes an issue for Blanche, newly arrived from the north of France. She enters the resistance out of conviction, but her character may not be suitable for the work. Other people in the Lyon Group are suspicious of her, but they still accept her for simple duties, like delivering a banned newspaper. The focus doesn’t stay on Blanche, and that’s what makes this such a compelling read. The gallery of strong characters is complex and convincing. There is Jules, or Marcel, which is his real name. He is young and fervent but also gets into trouble. The group leader is a strong man and manages the group carefully. When it breaks up, as all such groups may do, most of the members survive and move on to other work.
The German characters, especially Standardführer Sieves and Karl Wünsche, are vivid. They show the right mixture of humanity and nihilism to send chills down the readers’ spine.
While reading The Lyon Affair, it never occurred to me that this was the second part of a trilogy. That says a lot for Ellie Midwood’s writing acumen. Highly recommended.
Susanne Leist, The Dead Game
A Haunted House with a Vengeance
Vampires live disguised in a small town in Florida, mixing with the population. Newcomer Linda opens a bookshop and befriends Shana, who has an esoteric shop. There are young men and a blonde bimbo to go out with – and everything is fine until they get an invitation to a party at End House.
In Ms Leist’s village, there are several unexpected species. The hybrids, half human, and half-vampire, are difficult to single out. Then there are two groups of vampires, one of them working to protect humans and hybrids. The other group, the DEAD, wants to take over the world and rid it of human beings. Of course, the humans just want to live normal lives. Also, the village, and especially, End house, is full of illusions, some resembling the scary house in a fairground, except for the fact that they are armed with real predators and flying saws just to mention a few. The horror isn’t absent, but it is accompanied by not a few winks. It was an entertaining read that gave an insight into the antics of humans – let alone the vampires.
Elliott Baker, The Sun God’s Heir
The Ultimate Swashbuckler
The Sun God’s Heir has everything – ladies in distress, pirates, a proverbial wonder-woman, evil villains, heroes, comrades, magic, Egyptian mysteries, Pharaohs – and sailing ships (Windjammers). A case of less is more.
All in all, there were positive passages and well-developed characters. I’m in no doubt that Mr Baker had a whale of a time putting this tale together, and he has managed to give it some basis in the fifteenth-century reality. The sea fights are superb. The educational sword fights between the protagonist René Gilbert and his master, the Maestro are interesting and reminded me of certain passages in books by Rafael Sabatini. On the other hand, the use of metaphysical lucid dreams came across as a bit heavy-handed.
In my opinion, the use of French phrases like ‘S’il Vous plaît’ and ‘merci’ became repetitive. The triangle between René and the two heroines established the need for more books in the series, as did the reincarnated supervillain. The use of a hook at the end of the book always leaves me with a feeling of being cheated, but it seems to be the trend these days. No doubt, Mr Baker knows his metier.
M Ainihi, Rise
A girl, Amanda, and her father live a comfortable life together. They make weekend trips, and on one of these, Amanda finds an artefact. It turns out to be the prison, holding a jinni, Erol. Erol must serve her for the rest of her life. Amanda has no idea of the dangers surrounding her, but she soon loses her father and gets confronted with an evil Sorcerer and his creature a twisted Genie. The sorcerer sends Amanda on a quest and, unable to resist, she complies. This opens new worlds to her and forces her to change her opinion of a world where mythologies clash.
Sending a youth on a quest, a common YA fantasy idea that may seem inept, but Ainihi’s writing brings the different realms to life. This is as much a coming of age tale as a fantasy and that’s what makes it worthwhile. The characters are solid, and all, maybe except the evil sorcerer, have a share of humanity. A fast-paced novella that serves as an introduction to the four-part series of which it’s the first part. Recommended.
Daniel Kemp, Once I Was a Soldier
The Key is in the Prologue
Melissa Iverson, newly orphaned and rich, plays lightly with her power and may live to regret it. Francesca Clark-Bartlett, socialite, and power-hungry is married to a man who wants to become the president of the US. Terry Jeffries is a British intelligence officer and a womanizer. These are the pro- and antagonists of Daniel Kemp’s intriguing thriller Once I Was a Soldier.
The (triangular) power game and the underlying sexual tension is one of the elements in this work, and Daniel Kemp uses it with skill. There are several levels of deception and that causes unexpected twists and turns. There is also a rampant maniac, who threatens Melissa’s life. The questions posed, span from ‘who is who’, and ‘who plays with whom’, to ‘who serves whom’, and why. Also, the identity of the maniac and his motivation comes as a shock to the unwary reader.
This is a complex and ambitious work with many characters and strong prose.