THE PURSUIT OF PEARLS by Jane Thynne

THE PURSUIT OF PEARLS by Jane Thynne.  A very well-written series set during World War II!

THE PURSUIT OF PEARLS by Jane Thynne. A very well-written series set during World War II!

The other day I chanced upon a newly published paperback version of the book THE PURSUIT OF PEARLS by Jane Thynne.  It’s an espionage/mystery novel set during World War II and, as I am a lover of World War II books, I was pleased with how well-researched this one was.

I was also happy to see it’s one of a series, but where has the rest of this particular series been?  This is one I would have been reading from the start if only I’d found one of the books sooner.

The books are about a Berlin actress named Clara Vine.  She works at UFA Film Studios, officially, but, since she’s half-German and half-British, and she’s also spying on the Germans for the Brits.  Her stardom provides her with entrée into the upper echelons of the Nazis.  Without giving you any spoilers, the book, set in the Spring of 1939, concerns a young girl Clara knows from the studio who is found murdered, Clara’s desire to solve the case, get info on the Nazis for the Brits, and more.

What’s funny is that, as I was reading it, I started to think, “This is as well-done as Philip Kerr’s books, also set in Berlin during the same time period.”  What happened when I reached the end?  I found out that author Jane Thynne is married to…author Philip Kerr!

Bravo to them both for creating such terrific series!

Here’s one of Philip Kerr’s latest books, Prague Fatale, in his series about Berlin detective Bernie Gunther:

PRAGUE FATALE by Philip Kerr, whose World War II books are always a treat to read.

PRAGUE FATALE by Philip Kerr, whose World War II books are always a treat to read.

 

The Most Magical Attraction in Branson, MO: Marvel Cave!

My friend Ed Underwood leading the incredible "Lantern Tour" of Marvel Cave. Not to be missed if you visit Branson!

My friend Ed Underwood leading the incredible “Lantern Tour” of Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City. Not to be missed if you visit Branson!

Branson, MO is a very unusual place.  This is a town of 10,000 that hosts millions of tourists a year.  It boasts more theater seats than there are on Broadway.  It’s where many of your old favorite singers from way back when can be found, live, onstage, and still performing.

It’s also where you can spend a lovely day at Silver Dollar City, the amusement park that “grew up” around Branson’s most incredible, and natural, attraction: Marvel Cave.

It just so happens that my Branson friends, Ed and Karen Underwood, are employed by the company that runs Silver Dollar City and many other attractions around the United States besides.  Ed, who is an incredible historian – I’ve been on one of his tours of Haunted Springfield a few years ago –  is one of the guides at the cave.  Karen and I took one of his “Lantern Tours” of the cave at night.

It’s funny, but just passing the “tests” to get onto the tour can be a whole experience in itself.  The cave is 500 feet below ground.  It involves climbing up and down 600 steps.  Some of the passageways within it are so narrow, with the smallest one having a circumference of about four-feet-seven, that, first and foremost, you have to prove you can scrunch down and CRAWL through a small hole cut out of cardboard – or you can’t go.  This proved no problem for me.  I’m five feet tall.

But I’d hurt myself beforehand in an unrelated fall involving a Branson pothole, and my knees, already a mess since I was hit by a car last year, were, once again, not in the best of shape.  Still, I could not resist taking this tour, 600 steps or not.  There were warnings about the steps, but I wanted to go anyway.  There were warnings about the height of one of the viewing platforms inside the cave, too, but heights don’t bother me.  Oh, did I mention the bats?  80,000 bats live in that cave!  Anyone terrified of bats was allowed to have second thoughts about entering, but Ed said the bats truly don’t like people and leave them alone.  He also said they move so quickly it’s hard to even notice them.  We would literally be entering a bat cave.  Those who had signed up for the tour were briefed on all of this, then given the option of bowing out.

I didn’t bow out, and thank goodness for that!  The tour was absolutely magical.

We were all given lanterns and brought inside the cave.  There were few lights other than the ones we carried with us.  I had wondered if it would be disconcerting to go so far inside the earth, but it wasn’t.  In fact, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt so far underground, going through narrow passageways lit only by the lights of our lanterns.  I had always loved stories of children exploring caves or “lost mines” as a child, and here I was, in one!  It felt like the most natural thing in the world.  After awhile I was all but zipping through it.

Ed Underwood did his usual superb job of giving us the history of the cave, which was fascinating, yet rather bizarre, too.  I don’t want to go into too much of it here, but only because if you ever come to Branson and go on the tour, it wouldn’t be right to spoil it for you.  One thing I’ll say is that initially people were handed candles when they explored it.  The lanterns were a definite improvement!

The way out is a lot easier than the climb down to get in.  We were brought to the surface in a little train, and then, it was back to civilization!

Speaking of civilization, one thing I adore about visiting the Midwest in general, and Branson in particular, is the way the entire community embraces Veterans and patriotism.  I rarely get to see it in New York, but Silver Dollar City opens every day with a flag-raising ceremony.  I come from a city of wall-to-wall cynics and people who are too critical of America, so to see a flag-raising, or to hear the anthem at shows, is nice.

Here’s Ed at the start of the tour, Karen and me in the cave with our lanterns, and one of Silver Dollar City’s other wonderful employees, too.  I can’t recommend Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City enough!  If you come to Missouri, you can see it for yourself and enjoy.

Ed Underwood explaining how to use the lanterns before we entered the cave.

Ed Underwood explaining how to use the lanterns before we entered the cave.

Me with Karen Underwood, lanterns in hand, in Marvel Cavel

Me with Karen Underwood, lanterns in hand, in Marvel Cave.

A nice Silver Dollar City employee who gave me a "diamond pin!"

Uncle Gene Bortner, a nice Silver Dollar City employee, who gave me a “diamond pin!”

 

Who Was This Adorable Japanese Child Evacuee from Hayward, CA?

Dorothea Lange took this photo of a child about to be evacuated from Hayward, CA in 1942.  Who was this little girl?

Dorothea Lange took this photo of a child about to be evacuated from Hayward, CA in 1942. Who was this little girl?

The photo of this beautiful child inspired me for the past several months as I wrote a new book for children set during World War II.  I would welcome the chance to find out more about her.

Who was this beautiful little Japanese girl who was about to be evacuated from Hayward, California?  The photo was taken by Dorothea Lange, but I haven’t been able to find the child’s name anywhere on the Internet.  Where was she sent?  Which internment camp?  Manzanar, Minidoka, Heart Mountain – where?  How long was she kept there, and when was she set free?

Just look at that smile!  We can only hope that no matter what happened to her next, in the days after the photo was taken, this luminous child’s spirit wasn’t broken.

 

 

 

THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN by Irma Joubert

THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN by Irma Joubert.  A page-turner!

THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN by Irma Joubert. A page-turner!

THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN is my kind of book!

I can’t help it.  Ever since reading MANDY by Julie Edwards (better known all over the world as actress Julie Andrews) I have absolutely loved any story about an orphan.

The orphan in this new title, Gretl, has got her hands full.  Right after slipping Gretl and her sister out through the opening of a train bound for Auschwitz, her mother and grandmother are blown to bits when the Polish Resistance blows up the train.  A resistance fighter named Jakob winds up with Gretl, and the story takes off from there…

I’ll say no more, since I don’t believe in spoilers.  This story is impossible to put down.  Interestingly, it was originally written in Afrikaans by a South African writer, Irma Joubert, and this is the English translation.  A quick check of Amazon revealed that it’s the first of Ms. Joubert’s books to be available in English, so…may this one be the beginning of a trend!

Wouldn't this be a great idea?  Publishers, please take note!

Wouldn’t this be a great idea? Publishers, please take note!

What Really Happened to Justice Antonin Scalia?

Antonin Scalia at NYC's Xavier High School, left, and later, as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Antonin Scalia at NYC’s Xavier High School, left, and later, as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you already know that the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has got The American Powers That Be in yet another uproar, once again divided along fanatical party lines. “The justice is dead?  Who will replace him?”  “Should Obama make the appointment of the next justice?”  “Should the next President make it?”  “If Obama makes it, horror of horrors, he’ll pick a fellow Liberal!”  “If the next President makes it, since the Republicans might win, good night, he’ll pick a fellow Conservative!”  Blah, blah, blah.

So initially I stopped paying too much attention to the entire brouhaha being made by the usual party puppets, considering it to fall under the heading of “Situation Normal: All Fouled Up.”  I even discounted the conspiracy theorists…

Until this morning during breakfast, when my friend Ken told me the latest about the death of the justice.  Tonight I started researching further, and is this mess ever disturbing.

I’d heard that Justice Scalia had died with “a pillow over his face,” which certainly did strike me as bizarre, although it could happen that, innocently, a pillow, or the covers, can land in the wrong place while we sleep.  I myself am notorious for tossing off the covers.  Initially I thought this happened while Scalia was at home in his own bed…

But then I found out there’s more.  Much more.

Scalia was not only not at home, he was staying at a ranch in Texas, and nowhere near his own bed.  He was visiting someone else, not at home.  This considerably amps things up.

There was no security detail assigned to him while in Texas.  Why was there no security detail?  He’s a Supreme Court Justice.  He’s not Joe Schmo from Kokomo.  He’s supposed to be guarded by the U.S. Marshalls.

Where were the U.S. Marshalls?

Then I heard that the ranch he was visiting was owned by a heavy donor to the Democratic Party.  Scalia was a Conservative.

The donor apparently convinced the local authorities there wasn’t any foul play, though if he’s not a doctor, how would he know?

No wonder people are coming up with conspiracy theories about this!

I am not saying the man was murdered.  I am not trying to cast aspersions on the donor.  However, I do think the situation sounds suspicious.  Just because conspiracy nuts are having some fun with it doesn’t mean it’s not a possible homicide.  Again, by all accounts, the pillow was found over his face.  It’s not like it wasn’t.

By the way, Justice Scalia was the most famous alumnus of my father’s high school, Xavier High School here in New York City.  It’s really sad that he died, and I do hope he went naturally and wasn’t murdered.  However, it looks likely that a full investigation is in order.  I hope there will be one.

I also hope an Independent is put forward as Scalia’s replacement.  Ha, if you think the party people are going straight up the wall over this death now, that would send them all clear onto the ceiling and right down the other side, which sure would be fun to watch!

 

 

MY NAME IS MAHTOB by Mahtob Mahmoody: The Daughter Speaks

MY NAME IS MAHTOB by Mahtob Mahmoody. The story of NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER continues.

MY NAME IS MAHTOB by Mahtob Mahmoody. The story of NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER continues.

If you are a fan of the book and movie NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER by Betty Mahmoody, you’ll be sure to enjoy this new book.

As you may remember, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER was a harrowing look at the ordeal of an American woman who went to Iran with her Iranian husband and daughter, thinking it was for a two-week vacation.

It wasn’t.  Her husband, a doctor, had decided they were all going to stay in Iran, despite his wife and five-year-old daughter’s desire to return home to Michigan.

The situation took a turn for the nightmarish as Betty found out that, as the wife of an Iranian man, on Iranian soil, she was now considered an Iranian citizen under Iranian law, not an American citizen any longer.  She also would automatically lose custody of her child if she were to divorce her husband and leave Iran – and never see the little girl again.  Custody in Iran is automatically given to the father.

This particular dad isn’t exactly a candidate for Father of the Year, either.  He’s violent.  He consistently threatens to kill Betty, to take Mahtob away, and even has a habit of punching the mother in front of the child.  This, keep in mind, is a doctor…yet one without a shred of adherence to the Hippocratic Oath.

Betty was resourceful and found a way out of the country and, with the help of a sympathetic businessman who led her to smugglers, managed to sneak across the border with her child, an odyssey that included a horseback ride on an icy mountain path.

MY NAME IS MAHTOB continues the story from the point of view of her daughter.  Upon their return to America, while they’re free to some extent, mother and daughter are not 100% out of the woods yet.  Mahtob’s father in Iran still has custody of her, at least by their law, and could materialize to try and take her back at any minute.  They are forced, of necessity, to always have to look over their shoulders.  The child has to go to school under an assumed name.  She and her mother make numerous moves to ensure they’re not found.  They’re often terrified, and many strange things happen to raise their fear level.  Later, once Mahtob, now using her real name, is in college, the father finds out what school she’s attending after he searches for her on the Internet, and he and his relatives step up their bizarre efforts to “get to” the girl.  The nightmare just keeps on going, yet Mahtob is a Lutheran child of enormous faith and continuously manages to rise above it.

It’s a great read.  Congratulations to Mahtob for turning out so spectacularly!

 

 

For Shame, Amazon!

Amazon, get thy act together!

Amazon, get thy act together!

For shame, Amazon! What’s this latest stunt of yours about signing me up for “Kindle Unlimited” and trying to bill me for it monthly – when I don’t have a Kindle?!!!!

I don’t quite know how this happened, but that’s the latest Internet scam that’s being run, and Amazon is running it.  What a neat trick, to attempt to charge people like me for unlimited access to use a device we don’t own!

Where is the IRS?