Tag: Book Review

A Hunt for Interstellar Portals


Gregory Roarke and his Kadolian partner Selene are back. They are still crockets, exploring uninhabited worlds for new resources, but they are no longer freelancing.

“The Icarus Twin,” a science fiction novel by Timothy Zahn, picks up from where the previous book in the series “The Icarus Plot,” left off. They are now on salary with the Icarus Project. They are still seeking valuable undiscovered planetary resources, but that is now a cover story. Their real mission is to discover Icarus portals.

One Farm Boy’s Experience Aboard USS Guadalcanal


Glenn Larson was a 19-year-old North Dakota farm boy when the United States entered World War II. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy in December 1942. He could have gotten an agricultural deferment, but wanted to serve. Later, he was aboard the USS Guadalcanal when it captured the U-505 German submarine.

“A World War Two Secret: Glenn P. Larson and the U-505” by Beverly Larson Christensen tells his story. Larson participated in the capture of the first enemy warship taken on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812.

Christensen gives a picture of her father growing up on the family farm. She recounts Larsen’s naval career when he joined up: boot camp in Idaho, training as an electrician, assignment to the Guadalcanal when not yet in commission, and how Larson became part of the submarine’s capture.

A GI View of the News


When World War II started newspapers and magazines were at a zenith in American culture. US military leaders, including George C. Marshall, decided the Army needed its own newspapers and magazines to inform troops. Surprisingly, they gave the GIs running the publications a remarkable freedom to report as they saw fit.

“The War of Words: How America’s GI Journalists Battled Censorship and Propaganda to Help Win World War II,” by Molly Guptill Manning, tells the story of the GI press in World War II. It shows they were a weapon leading to US victory as much as the tanks and artillery wielded by the GIs.

Manning makes Marshall the champion of the GI newspaper.  She also shows why. Marshall understood morale’s importance. He believed keeping GIs uninformed, with no place to gripe, contributed to low morale.  The book shows how and why Roosevelt supported Marshall. She shows how the Nazis harnessed propaganda to further their efforts. Marshall and Roosevelt believed a patriotic free press within the US military would counter that.

War in the Western Mediterranean, 1794


Philippe Kermorvant is an officer of the Marine Nationale, the navy of Revolutionary France. He is an aristocrat but a French patriot first. Captured by the British, he refuses parole, making a daring escape from a prison hulk to return to France.

“Tyranny’s Bloody Standard,” a historical novel by J. D. Davies, follows what happens next. Waiting follows Kermorvant’s return to France, as he haunts the Ministry of Marine for a new assignment.

Despite support for the Revolution and his escape and return to France, the Reign of Terror is underway. All aristocrats are under suspicion. He is finally given command of a frigate, but in the Mediterranean fleet in Toulon rather than his desired posting in Brest. France is rebuilding its Mediterranean fleet after the British occupation of Toulon, and it needs experienced officers there.

A Bar Sinister Prince Emerges


Chase Collis was a street rat in the Solarian Empire’s capital city. He is an orphan, a bastard.  His mother died when he was twelve. He lived on the streets since then. At 20 he is a lieutenant in the city’s biggest gang. To move up he needs cred from a stretch in an Imperial prison. The trial judge, his father, an Imperial prince, intervened. He sentenced Chase to ten years in the Imperial Navy instead.

“Stand Alone: Wolfhounds – Book One,” by John Van Stry, opens with Chase arriving at his new unit following training: Wolfhound Base. The Wolfhounds are the Emperor’s Own, the Imperial Guard unit, and about to ship out to conquer Rogen’s World. Chase joins them in cold sleep.

They wake ten years later. A coup has overthrown the Emperor. The Democratic People’s Republic of Solaria (as dictatorial a government as the name implies) rules. Wolfhound Base and the Wolfhounds were removed from the board by an unwitting dupe of the revolutionaries.  Too late to save the Emperor, the Wolfhounds have a new mission: restore the Empire.

Exploring the Arctic for Fame and Headlines


Before reality television, people satisfied the urge to see new places and do new things by reading about the exploits of risk-takers, including explorers. Before the internet or radio, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the way to do that was through the newspaper.

Back then, the modern mass-market daily newspaper was still new.

In “Battle of Ink and Ice: A Sensational Story of New Barons, North Pole Explorers, and the Making of Modern Media,” Darrell Hartman threads together two themes: the rivalry between New York City’s major newspapers and polar exploration.

When the Earth Moved


In April 1906 San Francisco was “the Queen City of the Pacific,” the largest city in California and the busiest port on North America’s Pacific Coast. It was a city of superlatives, most banks, best entertainment, richest rich, and greatest ethnic diversity. Then the earth moved and San Francisco lay in ruins.

“The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906,” by Matthew J. Davenport, tell the story of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It describes the pre-earthquake city and how it became what it was. It then recounts the events of the earthquake and what followed in the immediate aftermath.

Davenport takes readers into the ethnically-diverse streets of San Francisco of the late 1800s and the first half-decade of the 20th century. Readers visit Chinatown, the Italian, Russian, and Mexican enclaves in the city and the homes of the very rich and very poor.  He shows how San Francisco grew from an obscure Mexican town to the economic dynamo of the West Coast. He shows how rapid growth created a town ripe for disaster. Poorly-built, crowded buildings were common. Infrastructure was neglected. Much of what existed was shoddy.

Thoughts for the Day


When Vaghese Mathai first began teaching, his college asked student volunteers to open the class with a devotional, a brief statement to set the stage for the class. Because the students were reluctant to volunteer, Professor Mathai began giving it. His version was a short narrative.  His openings were so fascinating students began taking his classes because of his opening statement.

“The Village Maestro and 100 Other Stories,” by Dr. Vaghese Mathai collects 101 of these microstories in a short volume. Advertised as short stories, they are not. Instead this is a collection of meditations on the human condition.  They are short essays rather than short stories.

They are short. The longest take ups three pages, some just one page, most use two. All show you do not need a lot of words to say something meaningful. Each one carries an important lesson. Each one merits thought and reflection.

Disco Monster Hunting


Chloe Mendoza hunts monsters for a living. She is one, too, a nagualli – a creature of pre-Columbian Central American myth. When she lets her inner monster loose, on direct orders from her superior, the results force her to leave Israel and the monster-hunting team she was a member of.

“Monster Hunter Memoirs: Fever,” by Larry Correia and Jason Cordova opens a new branch of Correia’s Monster Hunter series. It is a retrospective novel, set in the 1970s using characters mostly gone from MHI by the time Owen Pitt appears in the mainstream MHI novels.  Chloe Mendoza is the story’s narrator and central character.

She appears to be in her early 20s, but is a World War II veteran of the OSS. Nagualli age slowly. Having liberated Nazi death camps, when it ended, she moved to Israel afterwards. An incident in the Egyptian desert leads to exile. Her World War II heroics gained her a PUFF exemption, which keeps her from being hunted down as a monster.

Norm-Breaking Ancient Ships


During his reign, the Emperor Caligula built two massive barges on Lake Nemi. Almost immediately after his assassination, they sank. The boats fascinated posterity. Starting in the 15th century, efforts began to refloat them. Four centuries later, Mussolini succeeded. A museum by the lake displayed them. In 1944, the retreating Nazis burned both the museum and ships.

“From Caligula to the Nazis: The Nemi Ships in Diana’s Sanctuary,” by John M. McManamon, SJ, tells the full story of these ships, from their creation in Early Imperial Rome to their destruction in World War II.

He opens with the destruction of ships in May 1944. McManamon makes it clear the Germans deliberately set fire to the museum containing the ships, despite postwar denials. This act of historical vandalism was triggered by German pique at their former Italian allies. It served no military purpose.

Anatomy of a Failure


In 1918 the British Army was at a peak. In a hundred-day campaign, it shoved the German Army almost back to the German border – not through German exhaustion, but by outfighting and outmaneuvering them. By 1940, it abandoned World War I’s hard-earned lessons, deteriorating into the worst army of any major power.

“Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1918-40,” by Richard Dannatt and Robert Lyman traces this collapse, examining the reasons behind it.

The authors open describing how the 1918 British Army developed combined-arms tactics that peeled German defensive lines apart like rotted cardboard. Artillery, tanks, and aircraft played a role, but infantry armed with light machine guns and rifle grenades did the real work.

You’ll Stick with ‘The Landing’


Dr. Raj Mondal works for the Landing’s Genetic Hygiene Board. He sentences people to death. He does not see it that way. He sees his job as making the genetic classification system fairer. He counsels those carrying an excess error load (EEL) of genetic flaws to register.

“Charis Colony: The Landing,” a science fiction novel by John David Martin, opens in The Landing, a city on Charis Colony, a planet settled by Earth. The colony ship has been destroyed, they have lost contact with Earth, but the colony still exists over two hundred years after arrival.

Raj Mondal descended from the colony’s leaders, and benefits from the system at the Landing. A socialistic society, it receives from each according to their abilities and provides for each according to their genetic status. An atheistic society, the only god is the state. Things start going sideways for Mondal after he counsels Vindaran Singh that, as an EEL, Singh has to register for harvesting.

Where No American Woman Had Gone Before


In 1978, NASA selected 35 new astronauts. Among them were the first six women picked as astronaut candidates: Sally Ride, Judith Resnick, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon.

“The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts,” by Loren Grush, tells their story. It relates the opening years of the Space Shuttle program.

Their arrival marked a new era at NASA, the end of the test pilot era and the start of a new age in spaceflight. Using the Space Shuttle access to space, NASA claimed, would become as routine as airline travel. This included women in the astronaut pool.

Putting a Spin on Things


Spin: it is not just for politicians anymore. It dominates all aspects of our lives.

“The Science of Spin: How Rotational Forces Affect Everything from Your Body to Jet Engines to the Weather,” by Roland Ennos makes this clear. He shows how rotation affects everything, from the way you move to the existence of the Universe.

Ennos starts with a prologue exploring the difficulties created by spin, including our difficulty in understanding it. He then splits the book into three main parts: how spin affects our world and the universe, how technology uses it, and how it affects the human body. He then wraps things up by putting spin into perspective, its impact and how to teach and explore spin.

The Dambuster Raid In Detail


It has been 80 years since the Royal Air Force launched an airstrike against three dams in the German Ruhr. Flown at low level, it was one of the most daring, and successful, air raids of World War II

“Breaking the German Dams: A Minute-By-Minute Account of Operation Chastise, May 1943,” by Robert Owen, is the latest effort to document the raid. It may be the most successful.

Owen uses the perspective of time to produce what is probably the most comprehensive account of the Dambusters raid ever written.  This book covers all aspects of the raid, from its conception through its execution. It follows what happened to the participants – on both sides – after the raid was over.

A Soulless, Dystopian Future


Nearly 250 years into the future, the United States has collapsed and was replaced by Lantua, a thousand-mile-long city-state that was the United States’s urban east. Maelin Kivela is a counselor for Lantua’s Population Management Department.

As “Exogenesis,” by Peco Gaskovski opens, Maelin is on her annual mission to protocol (as PMD terms sterilization) Benedites youth. To her mind, they are religious fanatics, whose religion demands they ignore the PMD’s strict population controls.

The Benedites are rural, living apart from Lantua. Christians, they worship following a version of the Bible banned by Lantua, which permits only an eviscerated version consistent with Lantua’s material secularism.

Whiskey and Texas


Texas and whiskey go back to the state’s beginnings. The Cherokee name of the Republic of Texas’s first President, Sam Houston, was “Big Drunk.” He did not get drunk on Chablis. He drank whiskey.

“Fires, Floods, Explosions, and Bloodshed: A History of Texas Whiskey,” by Andrew Braunberg tells the story of Texas and distillation. He starts at the beginning and takes the story forward to the present.

It starts earlier than most might imagine. Braunberg shows the first tipple distilled in Texas was brandy, starting in the 16th century. The product of Spanish vineyards along the Rio Grande, it was big business through the end of the 1700s. Whiskey came later, after rum. It arrived with the Old 300, Moses Austin’s first Anglo colony. Sugar-based rum lost out to whiskey because grain was easier to produce in Texas.

Ernie Pyle in Europe


Ernie Pyle was the most beloved war correspondent of World War II. He covered the war from North Africa to Northern France in the European Theater before going to the Pacific to report on the Okinawa invasion.

“Brave Men,” originally published in 1944, is a classic collection of Pyle’s writings. It covers his activities from the invasion of Sicily in June 1943 through the liberation of Paris in September 1944. The book was made up of his newspaper columns. Some were updated to reflect changes since he wrote them, noting what happened to those he had written about.

In the book he lives in many different places: aboard an LST headed to Anzio, with engineers in Sicily, an infantry company and artillery unit in Italy, among the aircrews of a dive bomber unit, a light bomber unit, and medium bomber unit in Italy and England ordinance and antiaircraft units in France. He then told the story of the men (and occasional women) who belonged to it. Nothing grand, but rather relating the everyday experiences of life.

A Pioneering Woman Photojournalist


Georgette “Dickey” Meyer Chappelle was a trailblazer. She was one of the first women to report on aviation. Later she became a pioneering photojournalist; the first woman war correspondent in the Pacific during World War II. She covered a slew of conflicts between 1946 and 1965.

“First to the Front: The Untold Story of Dickey Chapelle, Trailblazing Female War Correspondent,” by Lorissa Rinehart is the first comprehensive biography of this remarkable woman.  Rinehart follows Chappelle’s life from her 1918 birth until her death in combat in 1965, covering US Marines in Vietnam.

A teenaged Georgette Meyer, then an MIT aeronautical engineering student, skipped class to cover a supply airlift to flood-isolated Worcester, Massachusetts. She got the story. Her displeased parents packed her off to grandparents in Coral Gables, Florida.  Working for the Tenth Annual Miami Airshow she covered an air crash at a Havana airshow. From there she went to TWA, working in publicity.

The Zombie Apocalypse – Live and In Color


In 2013 John Ringo wrote “Under a Graveyard Sky,” a novel about a zombie apocalypse. While zombie apocalypse stories are almost as done to death as vampire stories, Ringo put an original spin on it. The book caught fire. There are now four novels in the mainline series, four spin-off novels, and three collections of short stories in what is known as the Black Tide Rising series.

“Black Tide Rising: The Graphic Novel, Volume One,” scripted by Chuck Dixon, drawn and inked by Derlis Santacruz, colored by Brett A. Smith, and lettered by April Brown, adds a graphic novel version of the story. It is the first installment of what promises to be a series of graphic interpretations of the series.

The book is slim, 64 pages with 52 pages of story, giving it the feel of a comic book. It only covers Book 1 of “Under a Graveyard Sky” – “Light a Candle.” These are the events from the time John Smith receives a message from his brother Tom that the apocalypse is at hand until the Smith family evacuates New York City after the final concert there.