History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi: Book Review Dragonfly

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DragonFly (Missions of the DragonFly Squadron #1)

Written by Charles A. Cornell 

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Dragonfly starts off with a bang – the train carrying Pilot Officer Veronica (Ronnie) Somerset to her newly assigned post is attacked by Nazi planes. She makes it to the station, then on to the Royal Naval Station Enysfarne, a castle high above the Cornish coastline.

After establishing she is indeed a pilot, not a cook, Ronnie learns she will be testing the latest British plane, the Dragonfly.  It is the furthest thing from ordinary. Able to travel on land or under the sea, it boasts the ability to refuel either in the sea or during a rainstorm because runs on ordinary water.  Nigel Pennbridge, the resident scientist/inventor introduces Ronnie to the “War Office’s Department of Experimental War Technology”.  It is used to create powerful shells and bombs to use against the impending Nazi invasion of Britain.

Hitler also depends upon the occult to advise him in battle. The cards warn him of the women that will get in his way. He is not concerned, because the Nazi’s have secret weapons of their own.  Imagine robots created out of human prisoners of war that can no longer think for themselves then enhanced with robotic parts. The Blutskreiger are all that and horrifyingly more.

Cornell’s battle scenes remind me of Clive Cussler’s style. Just when your heart stops thumping, thinking the good guys are finally safe Cornell ramps up the action again. The excitement and tension created puts the reader in the jump seat right next to the fearless pilots of the Dragonfly.

Dragonfly is so much more than battles, Cornell touches on the occult, a sect of Ancient Druids, a connection to the Royal Family and a love interest or two. It was satisfying to have a woman RAF Pilot expertly fighting against the enemy. I think the YA audience will love this book. It has something for everyone. History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi makes Dragonfly a fast-paced winner.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful artwork of Jose “Cutangus” Garcia, Jordy Lakiere and Andrew Lounds bring the scenes to life.  The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter as well as the vintage photographs enhanced my reading experience to the next level. I can imagine Dragonfly as a summer blockbuster at my local theater in the not too distant future.


Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review

Find Your Wings like the Women in The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

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The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd


369 pages

Genre: Southern Historical Fiction


The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is one of the best books, if not THE best book I have read this year. It is the story of Sarah Grimke, daughter of a Charleston judge in the early 1800s. Even as a young

It is also the story of Hetty Handful Grimke, the young slave girl that was given to the unwilling Sarah on her 11th birthday. The girls grow up at the same time and place, but they were forever separated by their positions in society. No matter how kind Sarah was in private to Hetty, she still slept on the floor, was punished by Sarah’s mother for infractions, and was not free.

Secretly, Sarah teaches her to read. Because it is against the law for slaves to read and write, it becomes a blessing and a curse to Hetty.

Sarah’s father is indulgent with his library and amused by her abolitionist views until they start disrupting his life. Seen as a young woman who does not know her place, the liberties formerly given to her are taken away. Her hopes of becoming a lawyer are dashed. Distraught, she rebels further, but to no avail.

Sarah and Hetty continue to chafe against the chains (both figuratively and literally) that society imposes upon them. When Sarah begins shaping her younger sister with her anti-slave views, her mother takes desperate measures to put a stop to any activity she deems unseemly for a young woman of her stature.

Sue Monk Kidd based this work of fiction on the lives of two very real sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were abolitionists, writers and members of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States. The Grimke girls are fascinating, intelligent revolutionaries that continued working towards freeing slaves no matter what sacrifices they had to make to do it.

This book is painfully intense at times. The dialog and descriptions of the torture of slaves gave me chills as I read them. I cannot imagine the horror of having my child whipped for some minor infraction. This novel has many layers, some beautiful, some that will bring tears to the reader’s eyes, but all are necessary to tell us the whole story of Hetty and Sarah.

Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end of the book. She tells us which parts of the book were taken directly from Sarah’s writings and letters, which characters were based directly on real people and gives the reader more resources regarding the Grimke family. The Invention of Wings is an exquisite novel. Sue Monk Kidd combines the stories of Sarah, Hetty and Angelina as skillfully and beautifully as Hetty’s mama stitched her story quilts.

I am a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair and Traveling with Pomegranates. Like The Invention of Wings, each of her novels pulled me in from the first page and didn’t let me go until the last. Her lastest is no exception.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

Book Review: Netherworld by Lisa Morton

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Lisa Morton

Published by JournalStone


282 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Genre: Historical Thriller

Netherworld by award-winning novelist Lisa Morton is the first book in the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval series. Diana and her husband William are locked in the classic battle of good vs. evil throughout this novel. The story begins in England October 31, 1879. Diana is an extraordinary woman, risking her life to save mankind from demons, evil spirits and specters that are entering the world through gateways from the Netherworld.

It was the Furnavals’ mission in life to close all of the gateways in the world. Using incantations from “The Book of Gateways, Conjurations and Banishments”, as well as various herbs, knives, and human blood, she and William fought evil without regard for themselves. William traveled to Transylvania to close a gateway, but returned to England in a coffin. Distraught, Diana searches for answers but finds herself questioning William’s apparent death.

She travels, in an era where women did not venture out alone, to dangerous parts of the world. Her husband’s fortune and her steely determination take her to Europe, China, the United States and back to England, closing gateways. All the while, she is looking for her husband. If William is indeed caught in an evil place between earth and the Netherworld she is willing to do anything to save him.

Morton is a masterful storyteller. I loved the way she wove history into this novel. Customs and traditions accompany the page-turning, heart-stopping terror Diana finds herself facing at every turn. The story is rich in culture and creatures, a mix that works well to keep you reading well into the night.

The second book in the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval is scheduled for release in 2015, the third in 2017 per her website http://lisamorton.com/zine/ . It is no surprise to find out Ms. Morton is a Halloween expert. All Hollow’s Eve plays a big part in Netherworld and in her world. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: Outrageous October by Barbara Levenson

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Outrageous October

Barbara Levenson

296 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartmanoutrageous_october_book_cover

Outrageous October is the third book in Barbara Levenson’s Mary Magruder Katz Mystery series. The book opens with a year-old murder in High Pines, Vermont. How could Miami criminal defense lawyer Mary Katz possibly get involved with a cold case half a country away?

Mary Katz’s law office in Miami is successful. She is happy and content living with her fiancé Carlos, a hot Latin that she is crazy about and her beloved German Shepherd Sam. After winning a court case, she calls Carlos to make a dinner date to celebrate. He begs off saying he has a business meeting. Not wanting to dine alone after her day, she calls a girlfriend to join her for dinner. Unfortunately, they choose the same restaurant that Carlos has chosen for his “business meeting” with his ex-wife.

Mary runs out of the restaurant distraught. Her friend has a home in High Pines, Vermont, and suggests some time and distance might help Mary heal her broken heart. She agrees, packs up Sam and leaves without allowing Carlos to explain. She returns his engagement ring with a note that explains she cannot live with a man that lies to her. The only person that knows where she is going is her friend, whom Mary swears to secrecy.

Sam and Mary arrive in the tiny Vermont town where everyone knows her name because her friend had to announce her arrival to the caretaker of the home where she is staying. She soon finds out that small towns have no secrets, but mysteries surround her.

Due to a wrong turn on the unmarked mountain roads, she accidently stayed in the wrong home the first night. It happened to be the home in which the murder happened the previous October. Sam barks and growls at suspicious noises and a locked upstairs door. Is someone in the house? Is it haunted? Why is there an SUV parked in the barn one day and gone the next?

Mary moves to the right home with the help of her new friends in High Pines. These friends include Dash, a handsome lawyer that could use an extra lawyer to help with his caseload. Mary agrees to take a case that seems straightforward, but becomes entangled with seedy characters and possibly a murderer. Dash has more in mind than a business relationship, but Mary is still in love with Carlos, even though he shattered her heart.

Levenson weaves a plot that is full of energy and draws the reader in with unanswered questions and emotions that tie up neatly before the end of the novel. Her colorful characters are interesting and intriguing, coming to life on the page. This is the first book by Levenson I’ve read, but it easily can be read as a stand-alone novel. I plan to read the previous two books in the series, Fatal February and Justice in June. The fourth in the Mary Magruder Katz Mystery Series, Neurotic November is due out this winter. Mystery fans looking for a new series should try Ms. Levenson’s books.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: Island of the White Rose

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Island of the White Rose

R. Ira Harris

Published by Bridgeworks Publishing


239 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Set in the turbulent political time of 1950’s Cuba, Harris’ debut novel, Island of the White Rose asks many more questions than it answers – which is good because it makes the reader think. This is a work of fiction, but the events that weave in and out of the plot are based upon historical facts when the scenes involve Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara and Cantillo

Father Pedro Vallanueava is at a crossroad in his life. He is struggling with his faith but does not want to disappoint his family. His oldest brother is a physician like their father, his other brother is a lawyer like their grandfather. The expectation and prayerful request of his mother was that Pedro would become a priest. Pedro is a good son and follows the path expected of him, but the collar he wears begins to choke him after time. The only place he feels comfortable in his own skin is when he is sailing aboard his family’s sailboat La Rqsa Blanca.

 La Rosa Blanca or The White Rose flourishes throughout the novel as it becomes the symbol of unity and secrecy, love, honor and sympathy. Pedro becomes involved with the revolution which conflicts with his family’s ideals and the Church’s believes. He secretly falls in love with one woman and in lust with another.

Things get quickly out of hand for him, bringing about the destruction of someone he dearly loves. Unwillingly he is thrust deeper into the revolution. The more he struggles with his situation, the quicksand of his secrets pull him further and further away from his family and home.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have the attention span of a flea anymore. In spite of my lack of willingness to read a thick biography of Castro’s revolution, I loved getting a glimpse into Cuba in the 1950s. The tactics used by the government and the revolutionaries made me cry for the ordinary people on the island just trying to live their day to day lives amidst killings, lootings and  lack of essential things like water, food and electricity.

Thanks to Harris, I know more about Cuba and want to read even more about what happened on the island.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: Capacity for Murder by Bernadette Pajer

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Capacity For Murder

Bernadette Pajer

Poisoned Pen Press

252 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Capacity For Murder, the third book in Pajer’s Professor Benjamin Bradshaw Mystery series, opens with a cry for help via telegram from Dr. Hornsby, owner of Healing Sands Sanitarium in Ocean Springs, WA. The Dr. begs Professor Bradshaw to come to him immediately, because he is a leading expert in electricity and there has been an “accident of electrical nature”.

Reluctant to leave Seattle for the untamed coastal retreat, Bradshaw declines at first. Nevertheless, the lure of mystery, science and the fresh ocean air eventually convinces him to help. He sets off with his young son, the college students from his summer school class, his close friend Henry and Henry’s sister Missouri.

Upon his arrival at Healing Springs, Bradshaw finds Dr. Hornsby an emotional mess. He appears to have accidentally killed his beloved son-in-law with an electrotherapy machine. The Professor soon realizes the machine was sabotaged, making this a murder, not an accidental death.

The patients at the Sanitarium are sequestered on the property until the killer is found. The odd  rules and foul smelling food served is as off-putting to the Professor and his group as the array of strange characters they have to interview. Most of them seem to have the motive to kill the victim.

The reader learns about Professor Bradshaw’s personal life as he fights his attraction to Missouri as the demons in his past that keep him from her. Meanwhile, Henry plays a perfect Dr. Watson to Bradshaw’s Sherlock Holmes as they look for clues to find the killer.

Pajer brings history to life through this wonderful work of fiction set in the early 1900’s.. Oftentimes I read books that have facts in them that I assume to be true, but they could possibly be a fragment of the truth wrapped in fantasy to fit the story line. Capacity For Murder has a seal on the front proclaiming it was “Peer Reviewed & Approved for Science” by the Washington Academy of Sciences.

This certification cannot be taken lightly. Her manuscript was approved and certified after a “rigorous scientific review” determining the science in her novel is accurate. This is by far the most interesting and enjoyable science lesson I have ever read.

Professor Bradshaw and his cohorts are likeable characters. The mystery was fun to try and solve along with them as the clues stacked up. Sometimes I find it is difficult to pop into an established series without reading the previous books. This is not the case with Pajer’s book. I did not feel lost or confused; she perfectly wove in backstory without dwelling on it to bring new readers into the story. This is a solid standalone mystery, and I enjoyed it so much I will seek out the first two and look forward to a fourth.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: Holy Smoke by Frederick Ramsay

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Holy Smoke

Frederick Ramsay

Poisoned Pen Press


247 pages

Genre: Mystery

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Holy Smoke is the product of burning sacrificial animals. Frederick Ramsay explains the history and ritual of Holy Smoke in the most interesting way: in the midst of a mystery. Holy Smoke is the final book in a trilogy set in Jerusalem in the year 29 C.E.

Gamaliel, the highest-ranking Rabbi in Judea and his friend Loukas, a knowledgeable and trusted physician find themselves in the mist of murder and intrigue. A body is found in the holiest place in the Temple.  This is no ordinary murder – the charred body is a sign from an angry God or someone managed to dump a body in the place considered the most sacred place on earth for Jews without getting caught.

The mystery widens out into the far corners of Jerusalem. If God didn’t kill the victim, the murderer could be lurking in plain sight. Will Gamaliel and Loukas solve the mystery before becoming the next victims?

Ramsay’s novel is interesting on so many levels, it appeals to a wide range of readers. Mystery lovers will enjoy the challenge of this well written novel’s twists and turns.  If you are fond of cozy mysteries, Holy Smoke, by definition, fits. It has two very unlikely sleuths plunked in the middle of a crime, in an interestingly different setting and the murders are all done “off camera” without blood and gore.

If this isn’t enough to tempt you, add in the bonus of learning really cool facts about life and customs in Jerusalem when it was under Roman rule.  This includes mention of a controversial young rabbi from Galilee shaking things up by doing things like healing someone on the Sabbath, which is against Jewish law.

Frederick Ramsay is as interesting as his book. Check out his website http://frederickramsay.com/ and you will begin to understand where his ability to write so many diverse novels comes from. His background includes serving in the Army, teaching, theology, insurance salesman and working at the BWI airport.  It is the reader’s good fortune that he took all of his life experiences and began to spin stories to intrigue, enlighten and entertain us.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

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