Guest Reviews

September 1918 War, Plague, And The World Series by Skip Desjardin links together WWI, the Spanish flu epidemic, and the 1918 World Series by using Boston as an common thread. He also references politics, economics, science and their impact on the three important events of 1918.

 

Desjardin noted, “I happened to read a novel, The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane that was set in Boston in 1919. In that novel Lehane refers to the events of the previous year: The Spanish Flu and the World Series.  I came up with a lot of questions.  The more I researched these connections the more I thought there is a story here.  I wanted to finish the book before the 100th Anniversary of WWI’s end.”

 

Leading the first American fighting force in France was a division of Massachusetts militia volunteers.  At precisely the same time the Spanish Flu erupted in Boston and its suburbs, bringing death first to military facilities and then to the civilian population. Amidst the surrounding ravages of death at home and overseas, a young pitcher named Babe Ruth rallied the sport’s most dominant team, the Boston Red Sox, to a World Series victory.

 

During the month of September, the flu became rampant. Naval personnel became ill less than ten days after the first influenza cases appeared on the receiving ship. Camp Devens served as a training camp for the 76th National Army Division. The camp was overwhelmed as the influenza attacked approximately 10,000 soldiers. The deadly virus symptoms included severe headache, weakness, general malaise and pains of varying severity in the muscles and joints, especially in the back. The author put everything in perspective, “700,000 people were killed from that epidemic, while last year 80,000 died from the flu.  In 1918 our population was only a fraction of the size it is now.”

 

Overseas the American forces faced devastating attacks by the Germans.  Having to contend with the constant shelling, they also dealt with the fumes from the shells that rendered many sick, vomiting, and gasping.  But worst of all were the chemical weapons used against the allied forces.  Men came home with respiratory problems, loss of eyesight, and blistering skin.  

 

“I wrote about the veterans who became disfigured and had emotional problems. The effects were horrendous and lifelong for those who survived. It was horrible. For many it was confusing and devastating because they did not understand how to handle chemical weapons.  This led the world to ban chemical weapons.”

 

Desjardin writes how the baseball team rosters were decimated after America entered WWI. One-Third of all the players from the previous season of 1917 was serving in the military. During the 1918 World Series attendance was down and those spectators that were in the stands gave an unenthusiastic response to the Red Sox winning the World Series, possibly because everyone was facing the stark reality of war.  One such example written about in the book was Cubs’ President Charlie Weeghman who registered at the Boston draft board.

 

“I wanted to show how the war pervaded every aspect of the American life.  The government had issued a work or fight edict, which caused the World Series to be played in September instead of October.  Every man in America between the ages of 21 to 30 had three choices: enlist, register for the draft, or get a job in a war related industry.  The job had to be connected to directly supporting the war effort. Since all the games played were day games only those outside of that age group had the time and money to buy tickets.”

 

Even more compelling was the anger at the obvious greed of the players.  While men were being sent overseas to fight, those playing in the World Series, the Cubs versus the Red Sox, argued about receiving the same share regardless of how long they had played with the team during the season. 

 

Desjardin explained, “There were bad feelings that these perfectly healthy young men playing baseball were paid three, four, and five times the average salary of most Americans, while other young healthy men were dying or wounded in the French trenches.”

 

Patriotism was at a high point.  As Desjardin recounts, Karl Muck, a conductor of the Boston Symphony was born in Germany and became a Swiss citizen. Although he was willing to play the “Star-Spangled Banner,” it was decided that it would not be played.  Theodore Roosevelt responded, “Any man who refuses to play ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in this time of national crisis should be forced to pack up and return to the country he came from.” It was during this time, the National Anthem became a symbol for supporting veterans and those attempting to keep Americans safe.

 

This book is an interesting look how sports connected with those fighting in the Great War.  By intertwining stories Desjardin shows how September 1918 was an important moment in history, weaving together politics, sports, and science.

Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy are back, in the book Vince Flynn’s Red War. But this time they have a new adversary and a new setting, pivoting to the dangers Russia imposes. They race to prevent Russia’s gravely ill leader from starting a full-scale war with NATO. With this novel, it is obvious that Mills, who has taken over the writing of the Mitch Rapp/Irene Kennedy stories, has nailed the personalities and reactions of the characters.

He pivoted to Russia, “I am fascinated with Russia.  I grew up reading the Cold War thrillers written by Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum.  With the book, Order to Kill, I moved Mitch to deal with the Russians. As they continue to take on the world stage, I liked the idea of this tension between the two countries. Then I had the idea that even dictators eventually get old and weak, so what will happen if someone tries to cling to power, showing signs of erratic behavior.”

This story has the Russian president determined to cling to power after hearing he has brain cancer. He consolidates his control by killing any who threatens him, and then creates a diversion by hoping to start a war with the West. General Andrei Sokolov, the former head of the Russian armed forces and a trusted adviser, is asked to invade three NATO nations, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, with a series of military actions that will allow Krupin to disappear for cancer treatment, without drawing attention. What these two psychopaths do not realize is that CIA Director Irene Kennedy is very suspicious, and to get actionable intelligence she sends Mitch Rapp and Scott Coleman into the Ukraine to be her eyes and ears.  At the same time, she sends in Grisha Azarov, a former Russian operative, now a contractor for the CIA, into Russia to find out Krupin’s whereabouts. As the action escalates, events appear to be going nuclear, literally and figuratively. 

Irene Kennedy plays a pivotal role, but from behind the scenes. “I wrote her as the puppet master.  In this book, everything that happens is orchestrated by her.  For her, it is winning, but not letting anyone know we won.  Everything folds into place without people knowing she is involved.  She always has some way to get what she wants, yet, stays in the background. I see her playing a large role, but not like in the book Protect And Defend that Vince Flynn wrote.  I never really liked that she was captured by the Iranians and always felt she would never have put herself in that situation.”  

Grisha Azarov returns, not as Rapp’s adversary, but as his ally. He is no longer Krupin’s deadly assassin, a job that once put him on a collision course with Mitch Rapp. Both decided on a truce after Grisha worked with Mitch on a past mission. Now, Irene Kennedy connects the dots and realizes Krupin has ordered Azarov to be assassinated.  She sends in Rapp to rescue him and figure out why Krupin sent in a kill team. Bent on revenge after Azarov’s girlfriend was severely injured, he joins forces with Mitch and Irene to eliminate Krupin, who Irene understands has nothing to lose in this deadly game.

Comparing the two, Mills noted, “Grisha and Mitch had women they loved injured or killed because of who they are.  But Mitch became who he is because of his anger and sense of duty.  Grisha went into it because he was good at it and did not want to be a farmer.  He never fought because he believed in something, but did it because it paid good money.  I think they are motivated in different ways. Azarov will not be back.  He has traveled back to Costa Rica and will retire, but Scott Coleman will be prevalent.”

Another returning character is Scott Coleman. Mills highlights the close relationship between Rapp and Coleman. As with the early Rapp books they challenge each other and the banter between them is hilarious.  

Readers will be hooked from the very beginning. It is one of those rare stories where people will be disappointed that they have finished the book.  Unfortunately, Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy fans will have to wait a year for another story, but fortunately they know with Mills at the helm the Vince Flynn characters will be around to protect and defend their fellow citizens.

Forever Fudge by Nancy Coco is a sweet cozy mystery.  Readers will salivate with the fudge recipes, be charmed on the Mackinac Island, and attempt to crack the murder mystery along with the main character Allie McMurphy.

Coco is a great pseudonym for the Fudge series. “I really enjoy writing these cozy mysteries with the humor and solving the puzzle. While writing my first series, I would put recipes on my blog.  Then a friend of mine suggested I should write in this genre with a gluten free bakery.  My last name was specifically chosen for this series.  I love fudge, actually anything chocolate. The person in the apartment next to us said it always smells like chocolate in my house.  Not only does it smell good but tastes good as well.” 

Allie is an amateur sleuth. She and her dog Mal have an uncanny ability to find dead bodies. In the past, she has helped the police solve cases. As the owner of a delightful hotel and fudge shop on Mackinac Island, Allie’s excitement has grown after a television crew arrives on the island to film a television pilot for a mystery series. Throwing a wrench into the enthusiasm is the dead body found by Allie’s adorable Bichon-Poo puppy, Mal. Shot in the head, the body discovered has a letter with clues from chess moves. As the killings mount up, the murderer continues to taunt Allie, trying to get her to play his game.

The island plays a role in the story. “I have a huge family living in Michigan, which is where the island is located.  If you ever saw the movie, “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve, you can picture the setting. The island does not allow cars so people travel by foot, horse and carriage, or bicycle. It is a cool touristy place.” 

There is also a love triangle.  Allie is being wooed by two courters. She broke up with Trent Jessup because a long-distance relationship is not working, with him spending a lot of time in Chicago. The other beau is police chief Rex Manning who is being persistent in pursuing her, yet, willing to give her time and space.

 “I thought it is interesting to compare ‘in love versus loving someone.’ I love my male friends but being ‘in love’ has excitement, a commitment, and intimacy. Allie is starting to build connections but some old timers see her as an outsider. One of those who accept her as part of the community is Rex who sees it as his responsibility to protect her and the community.”

Actual recipes are dispersed throughout the story.  “I purposely did it this way to show what Allie is working on.  I sprinkle it throughout to give the feel and flavor to what she is actually making.  I try to relate it to the story when possible. I remember my first contract with Kensington Books required me to write ten recipes per book. Luckily, they downsized that amount.  Since they had to be originals it was a relief.”

This story has an intriguing mystery, some romance, and humor. It is a fun who done it plot that has no shortage of suspects. Readers will be looking forward to the next installment, Fudge Bits, out next fall, a Halloween plot. It will highlight her cat instead of her dog that finds a Zombie body.

The Sound of Distant Thunder (The Amish of Weaver's Creek Book 1)

Jan Drexler

Revell Pub

Sept 18th, 2018

 

The Sound of Distant Thunder by Jan Drexler presents a unique look at the Amish society.  This first in a series uses the backdrop of the Civil War as the characters struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires with the national interest.

 

Jan Drexler brings an understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. She takes the saying, “write what you know,” to a whole new level.

 

She commented, “My ancestors were Amish.  Also, I lived in Indiana and they were part of the community so I grew up with them.  I think my experiences mostly came from the stories my family told.  I explored why we were not Amish anymore.  I took a journey into my heritage with the stories growing out of that.”  

 

The story explores two divisions, North versus South during America’s Civil War, and the Amish Church, Mennonite versus the Old Order Amish.  Through the hero Jonas’ eyes, readers see his struggles with his own principles, beliefs and how these affect his life. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up on the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But this means Jonas must put on hold his commitment to marry his long-time love, Katie Stuckey.  

 

“I wrote the Civil War as more of a background. In specific situations, the characters interact with the Civil War, but are not immersed in it, except for Jonas, who was stubborn, intelligent, stoic, and caring, with a softness of heart. I hoped I showed how men 18 to 22 years of age were looking for an adventure.  They really believed it would not last more than three months.  I read numerous diary entries from that era where boys told their parents, ‘I have to join up now because I do not want to miss out.’

 

The Amish would be considered conscientious objectors today. The story has the real-life Ohio Congressman who was able to get passed that the non-resistance religions could hire someone to take their place or pay a fee that would go to the war effort. Survivor’s guilt is emphasized with the book quote, ““If I pay the fee, I’m showing them that my life is more important to me than another man’s.”

 

Drexler noted, “While doing my research I actually read about a man who did hire someone to take his place.  Subsequently that person was killed and the man had a very hard time living with that guilt.  They struggled because of their views, since they were non-resistant.  As with the Quakers, they thought killing is wrong.  But Jonas questions if there is a justification for war during certain circumstances. Most of the “English” world would say they have an equal allegiance to G-d and country, but the Amish feel their allegiance to G-d comes first. People could not conceive that someone would not support their country by fighting.  Even during the Revolutionary War the Amish had problems because people thought if they did not want to fight they must be Tories.”  

 

As readers turn the pages they seek answers to the questions, will the relationship survive the separation and how will Jonas be viewed in this pacifist Church? Amish traditions and beliefs are brought to the forefront with the Civil War as a backdrop

Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizuchima:  Review by Elise Cooper

Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima is a fast-paced and engrossing police procedural.  It features Matti Cobb and her K-9 German Shepherd partner Robo, which makes these stories appealing to not only those who enjoy mysteries, but also to animal lovers. 

 

Having done her homework, the author spoke with and shadowed those that train dogs.  “I have a friend who retired from training tracking dogs.  She allowed me to watch her train for tracking and evidence detection.  I was inspired by her to write about a female canine handler.  In fact, she had a dog named Robo, which I based the story dog Robo on. He could do so many things: Patrol, apprehend, track, and even pick up on gun powder to find hidden shells and casings.”

 

The plot has veterinarian Cole Walker and his two young daughters enjoying their trail ride in the Colorado mountains until they find a man’s charred boot with a decomposing foot in it.  Called in to search for the rest of the body Matti and Robo find him. It is then Mattie realizes there is a personal link to her own troubled past. 

 

This book explores her disturbed childhood, having been placed in foster homes since the age of six.  Her father was convicted of abusing her mother who later abandoned her and her brother. This is why she and Cole are taking the relationship slow although it is obvious they love each other. 

 

Because her husband is a vet, Mizushima knows something about the profession. “I always wanted to write a vet as a protagonist. Similar to my husband, Cole is a mixed practice vet, which means he treats large and small animals.  He has to overcome some personal problems after his wife left him and his daughters. Both he and Mattie are hesitant to connect because of their baggage with abandonment issues. This is why I wrote, ‘And as much as she wanted to, she had trouble allowing him past the wall she built to protect her feelings.’ He is a work driven, a type-A personality, but soft-hearted.  She is kind, athletic, spunky, a loner, independent, and vulnerable.”

 

What makes this novel special is the relationship between the partners. Robo is not written as some Superdog, but with realistic traits.  Mattie and Robo are a dedicated team who have a strong bond professionally and personally. He is truly her best friend, and when she goes missing Robo uses his search and rescue skills to find her. 

 

Having lived in Colorado all her life, Mizushima is able to create a realistic setting.  She seems to draw from current events since there have been so many wildfires this season.  In the novel, she uses it to enhance the action where the fire becomes an antagonist.  “I grew in a small town on a ranch.  I used the mountains because there is a sense of suspense and danger. This is why I wrote in the book quote, ‘Blazing orang lit the ridge above her, rapidly feeding on timber and eating its way downward.  Balls of fire leapt from tree to tree, the dry needles wicking flames into branches and sap, setting off booming explosions in the treetops.’”

 

This is a gripping tale that has a message of hope.  With Robo at her side Mattie is trying to overcome her childhood demons and learn to tear down the wall she has built, allowing Cole and his daughters into her life.

Latest comments

23.10 | 11:23

Awesome interview! B.J. Daniels books are just GREAT!! Always anticipating the next one! Appreciate her talent, and bringing us wonderful hours of reading!

...
22.10 | 18:12

For one, I’m glad you can come up with ideas and that the characters talk to you. Keep them talking and thank you and your characters.

...
22.10 | 17:30

I adore B J Daniels’ books. She grabs me from the first sentence and doesn’t let go until the last sentence. I loved this interview.

...
01.10 | 16:20

Happy Birthday! I remember when book club started when you turned 50. OMG! 100% agree with political status. So disappointing. Happy Foliage!

...