Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDIER SPY by Karen Abbott







Powerful and gripping this story of four remarkable women who filled unconventional roles during the Civil War is unputdownable from start to finish.  Karen Abbott’s research is impeccable, her facts indisputable yet the story reads very much like a novel as it flows so smoothly alternately focusing on each woman.  Most fascinating for this reader were the direct quotations taken from diaries and letters written at that time.  In addition, the narrative is filled with historical figures - Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Allan Pinkerton and more.  Yet it is the courage and passion of these daring four women that gives the story breath and life.

Belle Boyd was but 17-years-old when she shot a Union soldier in her home.  She was boisterous, hot tempered and an avowed rebel who became a courier and spy for the Confederate army.  She was an inveterate flirt who used her charms to seduce men and gain information.  She later lived through imprisonment while continuing to defy the Union by any means possible.

Rose Greenhow was an attractive widow and Washington D.C. hostess with many influential friends.  She used her position to acquire information about the Union’s military plans and passed it along.  She openly defied and sometimes ridiculed Pinkerton’s operatives who were attempting to catch her, yet she was imprisoned along with her young daughter.  At one time President Jefferson Davis even sent her to Europe to lobby for the South.

This quartet of valiant women came from different backgrounds and regions.  Young Emma Edmondson escaped a Canadian farm and her cruel father who had promised her to an elderly neighbor.  She crossed the border into Michigan where after dressing as a man and taking the name of Frank Thompson she enlisted in the Union Army.  She worked as a nurse and courier, most often at only arm’s length from the unspeakable battlefield horrors.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy Richmond spinster who supported the Union cause.  She carefully displayed a Confederate flag in the foyer of her spacious home while she was hiding Northern prisoners in a secret room until her free black servants could assist their escape.  She placed one of her servants in the home of Jefferson Davis.  The maid who had an amazing memory would gain Confederate intelligence and pass it back to Elizabeth.  Even though threatened with death Elizabeth continued her efforts on the Union’s behalf.

Each of these women was willing to sacrifice all, even their lives to further the cause in which they believed.  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is true, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

- Gail Cooke

ONLY THE BEST





"Little Miss Muffet sat on her worn out tuffet
That she needed a redo was unassailable,
It was her public place of rest,
She knew she had to have the best,
So wondered if Armani was available." - GC




Monday, August 25, 2014

DOWN MEMORY LANE





     "I always remember people I've met

       So the next time I sight one

       'Hello!' I exclaim then add their name,

       Which is seldom the right one." - GC

Thursday, August 21, 2014

AN UNWILLING ACCOMPLICE by Charles Todd





After opening this book I read two pages and then simply could not put it down.  Lunch skipped, dinner warmed I read it in a day and was sorry to reach the last page.  For this reader An Unwilling Accomplice is the best Bess Crawford mystery in a most excellent series penned by an estimable mother/son team writing under the name of Charles Todd.

They so perfectly capture England during World War I that their work certainly tops the list of historical mysteries.  As one reads the voices of the characters are distinctly heard, the chill of the night tends to make you shiver, and the wartime wounded touch your heart.  Battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is an exemplary heroine who while to the manor born doesn’t hesitate to go to the front lines where she is needed.  She endures hardships and deprivation but soldiers on.

With An Unwilling Accomplice we find Bess on leave in London where before she can rest she receives a notice from the War Office telling her that she’s to accompany a wounded soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, to Buckingham Palace where he’s to receive a medal from King George.  Moreover Wilkins had specifically requested her although Bess has absolutely no memory of the man or his wounds.  Obviously, she cannot refuse such an honor.

When she meets her charge Bess finds him heavily bandaged, literally from head to toe, and confined to a wheelchair.  She feels no trepidation about this assignment as he will only be in her care for a day or so.  The morning following the ceremony she goes to the sergeant’s room to prepare him for his return journey to find that he has vanished.

And there, my friends, begins an intriguing tale as both the Army and the Nursing Service blame Bess for the sergeant’s disappearance.  There is naught for her to do but try to prove her innocence so she can return to duty in France.  How exciting it is to follow her from village to village where she meets a cast of surprising characters, some helpful, some not, all with stories of their own.

Enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

SIGHT UNSEEN by Iris Johansen, Roy Johansen Audio Edition






With over 60 readings to her credit Elisabeth Rodgers is an accomplished audio book narrator.  She brings just the right amount of building suspense to this thriller by the Johansen team to keep you listening until the last word.

Kendra Michaels was born blind but at the age of 20 she underwent experimental surgery which almost miraculously gave her sight.  However, before her operation she did, of course, develop her other senses to the nth degree.  For instance she could identify the make of a car by the sound of its engine or the brand of an electric razor by the amount of stubble it leaves behind.  Yes, her senses were and are that keenly developed.  This is a unique and valuable gift that had various law enforcement agencies competing for her skills.

When four people are killed in a three car accident on San Diego’s Cabrillo Bridge almost immediately Kendra intuits that this was not an accident but murder.  In fact, this so-called accident bears an amazing resemblance to a case of hers in Texas.  Checking with San Diego’s FBI headquarters she learns of two more murders that resemble former cases of hers.

Obviously, there’s a psycho on the loose with Kendra at the center of his machinations.  But, who, why, where and how can he/she be stopped?

Sight Unseen is a unique finely crafted thriller - enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

Saturday, August 16, 2014

CLOSE CALL by Stella Rimington






Few international spy thrillers are on a par with those penned by Stella Rimington.  Hers are intelligent, informed, exciting.  And why not?  She is the former head of M15, Britain’s famed Security Service and I might add the first woman to hold that position.  She knows her territory well and brings a familiarity to it that few can muster.  Especially intriguing for this reader are the matters of investigative procedure which she details knowledgeably, concisely.  Thus, I joined a host of others in awaiting Rimington’s eighth story featuring British intelligence officer Liz Carlyle.  When it arrived I turned off my phone, closed the door, and read it from cover to cover.  What pleasure!

With Close Call we find Carlyle and her colleagues in the counter-espionage division facing their greatest challenge to date - uncovering the source of under-the counter arms trades in Yemen.  With the Arab world in a state of volatility the Brits are concerned that extremist Al-Qaeda jihadists are building a power base in preparation for an attack.  Rightly so.  And to make matters even worse the head of the CIA’s London station can prove that the weapons being smuggled into Yemen come from a connection in the UK.

Carlyle’s pursuit of the source of these arms deals takes her across the globe to Paris and Berlin. And perhaps the greatest shock of all is that the man she is after is a figure from her very own past.

In addition to Carlyle the author gives us a diverse and fascinating cast of characters.  Each is unique and captures attention as his or her part is played.  Close Call is prime spy fiction!

Enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

Thursday, August 14, 2014




From time to time I’ll come across a debut that is quite good yet it seems that the writer has been a bit tentative, not quite sure of himself or herself as an author, careful, if you will.  That is the complete opposite of Stephanie Feldman who has crafted an amazing debut encompassing Jewish mysticism, mythology, family love, and history without missing a beat.  Feldman is obviously intelligent, original, and imaginative as she flawlessly  blends mythology with our modern world (no small feat!)

At the center of the story are two sisters who grew up in New Jersey, Marjorie and Holly Burke.  At one time they were very close but are now estranged due in large part to Holly’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism to marry Nathan.  Marjorie has been spending much of her time working on a Ph.D. about the Wandering Jew, while Holly prepares for the birth of her first child, a boy whom she will call Eli.  When the girls were much younger they listened to their grandfather, Eli, tell them bedtime stories about a bearded wizard, the White Magician.

After Eli’s death Marjorie discovers a note of his which is filled with jottings seemingly part biography and part folk tale.  Her curiosity piqued Marjorie begins to investigate the notebook’s main character, the White Rebbe.  However, in the process she discovers more than she had imagined about her grandfather’s past.

Beautifully imaged, deftly delivered The Angel Of Losses is a stunning page turner - enjoy!

- Gail Cooke