Tag: Book Review

Horror at an English Country Manor


Ishmael Jones hunts monsters. He solves mysteries and uncovers dark secrets. He works for Britain’s Organization, which does not officially exist within government. He feels like he is doing some good there, and working for the Organization allows him to maintain his anonymity.

“The Dark Side of the Road”, a science fiction novel by Simon R. Green introduces Ishmael Jones. Jones is a man apart; someone who respects only the Colonel, the Organization’s chief. Jones has worked with the Colonel on numerous field assignments. Two days before Christmas the Colonel contacts Jones requesting Jones join the Colonel for Christmas at the Colonel’s family home.

It is the first time the Colonel has invited Jones to meet his family. It must be important. The Colonel asks as a personal favor and says he will discuss the reason why Jones is needed when Jones arrives. Jones leaves London that night in a rented car for the drive to Belcourt Manor in rural Cornwall. Despite a vicious blizzard that has the roads shut down.

The Rangers After Point Du Hoc


Ronald Reagan made the Second Ranger Battalion famous with his 1984 “Boys of Point Du Hoc” speech. There he extolled the exploits of the Rangers who scaled those heights on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Ever since then, many believe the Rangers started and ended their World War II efforts on that day in June.

“The Last Hill: The Epic Story of a Ranger Battalion and the Battle That Defined WWII,” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin shows that D-Day was the start of the Battalion’s World War II combat. They faced other challenges throughout 1944.

Addressing Dresses


We are in an age of sexual confusion. It is a pleasant surprise to find a book devoted to celebrating a form of clothing that defines femininity. Moreover, a book that does so unabashedly and unapologetically.

“Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century,” by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is a history and an appreciation of the dress, in all its forms.

Chrisman-Campbell opens the book by celebrating dresses and their role in enhancing femininity.  She shows how dresses feed into women’s desire to express pride in being female, and help them express their sexuality. She discusses how dresses can be simultaneously demure and forward. She also examines their role in defining women in all of their modes, mother, temptress, and ingénue.

The Anatomy of a Victory


The Battle of Midway, fought in the Northern Pacific during World War II, changed everything. Four Japanese fleet aircraft carriers were sunk.  Japan’s advance stopped and its retreat began. Fought only 80 years ago one of the most written-about battles in history.

“The Silver Waterfall: How America Won the War in the Pacific at Midway,” by Brendon Simms and Stephen McGregor shows more remains to be said. They offer a fresh look and a fresh interpretation of the events of the battle.

They contend the outcome when beyond a lucky accident. Simms and McGregor argue the “luck” achieved by the US Navy was the luck Thomas Edison meant when he said, “I believe in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get.” It was the product of hard work. The United States Navy had the right tool (the Douglass Dauntless dive bomber) manned by professional and highly skilled pilots. They show how aircraft and aircrews were in the right spot due to superb strategic level management.

Victory Through Engineering Prowess


Many nations have created military alliances over the centuries. Few have gone beyond coordination of military activities. Yet in World War II, the United States and Great Britain forged a collaborative association virtually unique in history.  It led Winston Churchill, in his post-war Iron Curtain speech to speak of a special relation between the two nations.

“Churchill’s American Arsenal: The Partnership Behind the Innovations that Won World War Two,” by Larrie D. Ferreiro, examines that alliance and the fruits that emerged from it, including victory.

Ferreiro shows it could have gone differently. His opening chapter shows the rivalries and jealousies that existed between the two nations in the years leading up to World War I and between the two world wars. Both nations suspected the motives of the other. He also shows how an accommodation formed due to the threat posed by Hitler, and examines the results of that partnership.

Adventure in Planetary Space


Dave Walker is a newly-minted spaceship engineering officer, aboard his first vessel: a clapped-out tramp freighter near the end of its useful life. While not much, it gets him off Earth, his life’s ambition. His other reason to make a pierhead jump to this ship? His stepfather is trying to kill him.

“Summer’s End,” a science-fiction novel by John Van Stry, is set in the near future, several centuries from the present. Humans reside throughout the Solar System, but Earth still dominates, especially in terms of population.

There is one world government on Earth. Ostensibly a republic modeled on the United States, in actuality it is an oligarchy, run by the elies, the upper-class elite. Most of the world’s population are doles, supported by the government for the votes that keep the elies in power. Dave is prole, the fraction making up the middle class. The only ones on Earth that work, their labor keeps the planet running. They work whether they want to work and for what the government gives them. Or else. That is why Dave wants to leave Earth so badly.

Author Troy Senik joins Brian Anderson to discuss his new book, A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland.

Find the transcript of this conversation and more at City Journal.

A Past that Poisons the Present


Father Gabriel was once married and a scholar. He became a priest only after the death of his wife, whom he met while at England’s university town of Cambridge.

“Death of a Scholar: A Father Gabriel Mystery,” by Fiorella De Maria, the fourth mystery in the Father Gabriel series, returns Father Gabriel to Cambridge. The series is set in post-World War II England. Father Gabriel is visiting an old friend, Arthur Kingsley.  A secondary goal is to face the ghosts of his past, in the form of his late wife’s family.

Gabriel and Kingsley became friends when they attended Cambridge together following World War I. After a few years in the chemical industry on the Continent between the two World Wars, Kingsley returned to Cambridge, where he is now a senior fellow at the fictional St. Stephen’s College. It is the first time the two have been together in many years.

Enigma Fully Revealed


One thing “everybody knows” about World War II is Allied cracking of the German Enigma code machine allowed the Allies to win World War II. It has become an article of faith since the secret was first revealed in the 1970s. Is that accurate?

“The Enigma Story: The Truth Behind the ‘Unbreakable’ World War II Cipher,” by John Dermot Turing tackles that question along with many others. It provides a fresh look at the history of Enigma, dispelling many myths and placing World War II codebreaking in proper historical context.

Turing opens the book with a history of the Enigma machine. He tells of its development in post-World War I Germany. Originally intended for commercial purposes, improved version were eventually used by the German government, and licensed abroad. (Italy’s military used a simpler version, while Britain used a much-improved version for their Typex coding machines.)

Defiance in the Philippines


Lt. William Frederick “Bill” Harris was an officer with the China Marine, the elite 4th Marine Regiment stationed in Shanghai, China, prior to World War II to protect American citizens. In the summer of 1941, with war clouds gathering, Harris and the 4th Marine were withdrawn from China to the presumably safer Philippines.

“Valor: The Astonishing World War II Saga of One Man’s Defiance and Indomitable Spirit,” by Dan Hampton, shows how illusory that presumption was. Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941. The 4th Marine ended up defending the American Philippines, first in Bataan and later as part of the garrison at Corregidor, the island fortress guarding passage into Manila Bay.

Harris led a platoon during the siege, commanding a company after Japan landed on Corregidor in May 1942. The overwhelmed and outnumbered Americans were forced to surrender. Although Harris was taken prisoner, he refused to quit. With two fellow officer friends he escaped, swimming eight hours in the shark-infested channel between Corregidor and Bataan to reach freedom.

Ring of Fire In Transylvania


In 2001 Eric Flint wrote a one-off novel titled “1632,” featuring a West Virginia town transposed in time and space to Thirty Years War Germany. It spawned numerous sequels, resulting in multiple series captured under the Ring of Fire umbrella. It even gave birth to a new publishing house focused on these stories.

“1637: The Transylvanian Decision,” by Eric Flint and Robert E. Waters, is the latest book in the series. It is also the last book written by Flint. He died in July 2022.

Over six years since the Ring of Fire, up-timer Morris Roth, transformed himself from Grantville jeweler too the commander of the Grand Army of the Sunrise, stationed in Bohemia. Roth, who is Jewish, created the army to prevent the 1648 Chmielnicki Pogrom. He is trying to carve out a Jewish homeland in territories east of Bohemia, in what in the future became Russia’s Pale of Settlement.

Another Fine Mess for Georgie


Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie O’Mara (nee Rannoch) was born thirty-fourth in line for the British throne. A descendent of Queen Victoria, Georgie (as her friends call her) abandoned her place in the succession to marry the love of her life, Catholic Darcy O’Mara. Her family connection led Queen Mary to use Georgie for sensitive investigations. Her husband has shadowy connections with British intelligence. Both lead Georgie into a series of adventures in 1920s and 1930s Europe.

“Peril In Paris,” by Rhys Bowen, is the sixteenth novel in “The Royal Spyness” series, in which Georgie, a member of the impoverished Rannoch family, holds center stage. She is plucky, intrepid, and naïve.  (Her most vehement epithet is “golly.”) She begins the novel pregnant with her first child and bored. Darcy proposes a trip to Paris, before travel becomes impossible.

Darcy has business in Paris. Darcy’s business in Paris is unknown, but is possibly dangerous. Belinda, Georgie’s schoolgirl chum, lives in Paris, working for Coco Chanel as courtier, designing dresses. Belinda has a standing invitation for Georgia to visit her. While Georgie accompanies Darcy to Paris and stays with him the first night, she spends the rest of the trip with Belinda, where it will presumably be safer.

Thunder over Germany


Activated in Georgia on January 28, 1942, the Eighth Air Force was stationed out of Britain through most of World War II. Although other Air Forces assisted, the Eighth was the chief instrument in the Army Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.

“The Mighty Eighth: Masters of the Air Over Europe, 1942-45,” by Donald Nijboer, tells the history of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. It covers the Eighth Air Force as thoroughly as the Eighth Air Force covered the skies of Germany in 1945.

It is broken into three broad categories. The opening two chapters report the history of the Eighth Air Force, with the first exploring the Eighth’s presence in Britain, and the second presenting its military history.

Death on the Mississippi


In April 1865, the steamboat Sultana’s boilers burst shortly after passing Memphis on its way to Cairo, Illinois. The boat burned and sank. Aboard were nearly 2,200 passengers and crew. Of those aboard, 1,168 died. It was the deadliest maritime disaster in the United States. Not until Titanic sank in 1912 would another maritime disaster exceed Sultana’s death toll.

“Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana: The Worst Maritime Disaster in American History,” by Gene Eric Salecker, is a new book about the steamboat’s loss. Salecker, acknowledged as one of the two foremost authorities about the steamboat’s history, took a fresh look at the disaster starting in 2015. This book is the result. It is the most authoritative look at the event written to date.

Salecker has been studying Sultana for over 30 years. He collaborated closely with the other acknowledged authority on Sultana, Jerry O. Potter, during that time. This book is the product of seven years of fresh research, with Salecker revisiting archives and reexamining court-martials records, official investigations, and personal recollections of the event.

All Hail the King of Cats


At the end of the universe, there is a mountain. Every thousand years, a bird flies to strop its beak on that mountain. When the mountain is worn to nothing, the universe ends. The mountain is down to a few grains of sand.

“Cat’s Paw, A Novel of the King of Cats” a fantasy by Robert A. Hoyt, opens as a bird readies for its passage to the mountain at the end of the universe. Unless it is stopped, it will be the final passage. The universe will end.

Meanwhile, in Broxton, CO, Tom, an alcoholic alley cat, encounters a white Persian cat while scouting for pizza and beer in a pizzeria dumpster. She is female, which interests Tom, who . . . tomcats around. She also appears lost and pregnant, with a fancy collar that shows she is an indoor cat.

Who Is Targeting the Jazz Clubs?


Josephina Jillian Jones (3J to everyone) is a bankruptcy lawyer. She and her mentor and law partner Bill Pascale are two of the best bankruptcy lawyers in Kansas City. It is usually not very exciting, but they provide a needed service.

”Automatic Stay,” by Mark Shaiken, is a novel featuring these two and a bankruptcy case that became way too exciting. Their new clients, Adam and Bey Rapinoe own a nightclub chain featuring Kansas City jazz: BJB (Bring Jazz Back) LLC. From 1920 through 1950 Kansas City, MO, was one of America’s four jazz capitals. The Rapinoes started their business to revive Kansas City’s tradition in that most American of music – jazz.

They exceeded all expectations until Covid hit in 2020. The crowds stayed away. By 2023 they had run through their cash. Unable to continue paying their loan, they decided to take shelter in bankruptcy.  They think they can turn things around if they can restructure the loan. It is pretty standard stuff for J3 and Pascale.

War Through the Ages


Allan Mallinson may be Britain’s most important living military historian, with several significant books on military history. He also wrote the Matthew Hervey novels. These followed the fictional career of a 19th-century British cavalry officer, similar to Bernard Cornwall’s Richard Sharpe series. He retired from the British Army in 2004 as a Brigadier.

“The Shape of Battle: The Art of War from the Battle of Hastings to D-Day and Beyond,” by Allan Mallison, examines six battles that shaped British – and world – history. All six battles focus on Britain’s fighting forces. The six battles he examines are Hastings in 1066, Towton in 1461, Waterloo in 1815, Sword Beach in 1944, Imjin River in 1951, and Helmand in 2009.

All six are significant. Hastings was where William of Normandy defeated Harold of England to merge Normandy and Britain into what became modern England. Towton was the bloodiest battle of the War of the Roses, a nasty dynastic struggle that put the Tudor family on the British throne. Waterloo saw the final defeat of Napoleon and the start of the Pax Britannica. Sword Beach was the key British contribution to the D-Day landing of June 6, 1944, in World War II. Imjin River was a Korean War battle where a British brigade stopped a Red Chinese horde from breaking UN lines during a major Chinese offensive. Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand Province in Afghanistan was one of Britain’s principal contributions to the Global War on Terror.

Spain Re-examined


Spain is a traditional villain in much English (and US) literature and history. In it, the Spanish are often portrayed as backward, haughty, and cruel. “España: A Brief History of Spain,” by Giles Tremlett tells a different story. The book is a one-volume history of Spain from its earliest days to the present. Written by an Englishman turned Spaniard, it reveals a different Spain.

Tremlett begins with the Iberian Peninsula’s mythic past. Associated with the Labors of Hercules, Tremlett shows how these myths reveal how Spain and the rest of Europe long viewed Spain. It was the Non Plus Ultra, the gateway to the unknown Atlantic and Europe’s Wild West.

He then explores Spain’s ancient history, presenting Carthage’s colonization of Spain, Rome’s conquest of it, and the role Spain played in both the Roman Republic and Empire. From there, he describes the collapse of the Empire, the occupation of Iberia by Gothic gentlemen of Spain, the Moorish invasion, and the Reconquista, completed by Ferdinand and Isabella.

A New Look at Colditz


Colditz was a World War II prisoner-of-war camp run by Germany. It was the place incorrigible escapers and special political prisoners were sent. It is one of the best-known German POW camps, thanks to one escapee, P. R. Reid. Postwar, he wrote a book about his exploits, giving birth to a genre of escape literature about Colditz castle.

“Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis’ Fortress Prison,” by Ben MacIntyre is the latest edition to the canon. MacIntyre takes a fresh look at the castle adding new research to previously published sources. Can anything be added to the story? The answer is yes.

Time has distanced us from the events at Colditz during World War II. The participants are all dead. The Iron Curtain, which separated those writing about the story from where the story took place, has fallen, allowing free Western access to Colditz castle. MacIntyre takes advantage of all of this to provide an unparalleled look at what happened.

Spellbinding Fairy Tales with a Modern Twist


Fairy tales served as medieval entertainment. They were cautionary tales, with advice about how to live your life as much as fables. They were not just for children.

“Odd Magics: Tales For The Lost,” by Sarah Hoyt, are a dozen updated fairy tales, snatched from traditional roots and garbed in modern clothing. Hoyt has taken stories you read as children, giving them her unique spin.

They are all there, The Frog Prince, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and seven more. No longer set in Never-Neverland, they take place in 21st-century America (mostly Colorado).