Showing posts with label World War 2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War 2. Show all posts

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook read capably by Julie Dretzin, which told the story of a young girl who is at Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb. Dewey Kerrigan is only eleven, and since her mother abandoned her, she has been living with a less than satisfactory woman who is hardly fit to be any kind of mom. She is thrilled to get the chance to move back with her father. The only fly in that ointment is that dad is a scientist at Los Alamos (which in English means, lots of Alamo's! No seriously, it means "The Poplars."). But Dewey must travel some distance alone to meet up with him.

Now keep in mind that this is set in the 1940's with the US (along with much of the rest of the world) under a war mentality, so when we find out that she befriends a grown man on the long train journey, it's nothing sinister here, especially since he turns out to be yet another scientist on his way to the same place she's headed.

The means by which they become acquainted is over a little science project which Dewey has set herself. This - the scientific bent Dewey has - was what won me quickly over to this novel. It was refreshing to read a story about a middle-grade girl who had an interest other than boys or the usual gamut of topics with which authors beset their young girl characters. It was truly refreshing for a girl to be shown as self-motivated, smart, capable, and inventive.

It wasn't all plain sailing though. Dewey has a somewhat handicapped leg and is forced to walk with a supportive boot which means she's always wearing odd shoes. Other children make fun of her, but one of the young boys who also lives there befriends her. Now here's where it could imploded like a beryllium ball as an ill-advised young romance sprung up, but this author never went there. She avoided that pitfall and instead set up a different dynamic and the story was much better for it.

At one point her father is required to be out of town on business and Dewey cannot go with him, so for the time he's gone, she's rooming with one of the girls who has been less than kind to her. This girl angrily resents Dewey sharing her home, and much more her room, so the two do not hit it off at once, but over time they become friends. The interactions between these two were charming and engaging to read, and they really brought the story to life for me.

The story culminates with the first test of the A-Bomb at Trinity, and the melted sand is the green glass of the story title. It's not permitted to collect this glass any more, but those who had already picked-up this mildly radioactive material were allowed to keep it and trade it, so it's possible to buy this glass online - and it's also possible to be sold faked trinity glass too, so don't get burned!

I really enjoyed every minute of this book, and I recommend it. It's apparently book one of a series, and while I am not typically a fan of series, I do enjoy one if it's a really good one, so I may well be tempted to go for volume two at some point.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Brave Faces by Mary Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
(Note that there were no page numbers and I do not trust the ebook "location" numbers to be valid across all platforms. However, a search of the book's text will find these based on the information I give below)
"...pull myself together, all the Derwent family, had known Henry since..." I trimmed this so as not to give away spoilers, but this entire sentence, taken as a while, made no sense.
"...the jeep slowed down and stopped next to us...the lorry..." It's either a jeep or it's a lorry (a large truck) - the two are not the same thing!
"Wren Writer’s" used when it should be "Wren writers"
"...William kept petering him with endless questions..."! This could be taken in several ways. I rather suspect though, that it should have read "pestering" rather than "petering".
"Aunt Beth said she’s wait for me" should be, I imagine, "Aunt Beth said she’d wait for me"

This is one of those books where names have been changed to protect the...whatever. 'Mary Arden' is not even the author's real name. While I can understand the need to protect the innocent from embarrassment, it does make one wonder, when so much is changed, how much of what's left is completely reliable. Note also that this is written British style with single quotes (') for speech instead of double quotes (") as Americans are used to.

It’s been seventy years since the end of World War Two, and this huge length of time - a lifetime - might make people wonder why it's worth reading any more stories about it. The answer is in the very fact that it has been a lifetime. We’re at the point now where nearly all of those who were alive during that war are dead. Very few are left, and it’s important to know their stories before it’s too late because soon there will be no one left alive who actively experienced those years, let alone remembers them.

This story in particular was fascinating to me because the woman to whom it belongs was so very young. She didn't sacrifice her life to the war as so many others had done, but she did sacrifice a portion of her childhood and of her formative adolescent years to it. It’s important for other reasons, too. She came from a very privileged background as compared with most children then, and her education was therefore much more than simply learning to do without the luxuries she had enjoyed, and lending a helping hand to the war effort. For these reasons and for the gentle, easy, candid, and very accessible way this story is told, I found this a very worthy read.

It was well-written, too. There are assorted errors of one kind or another that I spotted. This book could have done with another read-through before it was sent out to advance reviewers (as my copy was), although some gaffs are arguable, such as when I read, "...was the worst night of The Blitz, so far and I was very worried..." In that case it seemed to me the comma was out of place and should have post-ceded the 'so far' instead of preceding it, but that’s no big deal.

This 'landed gentry' perspective was particularly odious, especially when I read of her "coming out ball" which was attended by a young duchess because the king (he of The King's Speech) and the queen do not come to these anymore because of the war. She went on to describe the "hugest" cake. So these guys are celebrating their privileged status, wearing expensive gowns and jewelry, and eating giant cakes while others are scrimping and saving and having to suffer egg rationing. Frankly, this part made me sick, especially when I read this sentence later in the book: "my father would consider it inappropriate to hold anything too lavish during wartime". That said, to have gone through the horror that "Mary" did in so short a space of time, and to come out of the other end of it and take up the work she did with a positive attitude and good humor was commendable.

No-one can be blamed for the circumstances into which they are born, be they poor or rich, or anywhere in between, but the family's insistence that "Mary" got to finishing school and be "brought out" at a royal ball while World War Two was going on was amazingly blinkered. It was like this family was still living in Victorian times. That said, "Mary" took her own path in life and served in her own way. While the stories she told of her naiveté were often cringe-worthy, they were also often endearing. It was really quite eye-opening, and sometimes quite staggering to discover how sheltered and cosseted she had been growing up. She grew up fast, however, after joining the WRNS ("the Wrens"), and really got a real world education, and she handled it well - other than not knowing the difference between a union flag and a union jack - something which someone in the Navy, of all services, should know!

As the memoir begins, the threat of war forces the Arden family to return from their vacation in Normandy, not knowing what a site of horror those same beaches would be a handful of years hence, and before "Mary" knows it, she's working to feed and take care of the wounded coming back from Dunkerque, bandaging wounds, and scuttling into precarious shelter as Germans are bombing London. It’s not long before people she knows are dying.

One aspect of this book which turned me off was the frequent reference to ghosts and ESP. There are no ghosts. There is no ESP - not according to the best scientific evidence, and for someone to blindly believe in this stuff - her first thought, at one point, on hearing mice scuttling inside a wall was that it was a ghost, not mice! - and keep injecting these references into the text really took a lot away from the very serious and factual topic of the war. I could have done without that, frankly.

That said, there was humor which was very in keeping with wartime attitudes, and with "Mary's" lack of a real-world education. I was highly amused by this exchange:

...thought that I had better start thinking about what clothes I was going to take on my honeymoon, and asked Jane about what I should wear in bed. ‘Nothing you silly cow, that’s the whole point!’ Jane shrieked, ‘you are so naïve, Mary, surely you know what goes on by now, or I should say in!’
‘Jane!’ I exclaimed, ‘you haven’t have you?’
‘Certainly not!’ she said, ‘but Bridget has, and she told me all about it, in some detail I might add.’

One particularly hilarious comment from "Mary" was right after she first had sex with her new husband, and she exclaims, ‘Oh Duncan, why didn’t we do this before?’ Another was "She can't be pregnant she's not married." which "Mary" uttered after learning that her sister-in-law was pregnant. The sad thing is that the book ends so abruptly that we never do learn what happens to some of the people we have lived with through the entirety of the book - people such as Jane and the subject of this last comment. It would have been nice to have had one more chapter tying up loose ends.

Overall, I rate this a worthy read. I found myself readily drawn into the story, and wanting to read on, to find out what happens next. It felt a bit like reading a good thriller. It was an easy, comfortable, and very informative read, and I warmed to "Mary" very quickly. It's for these reasons, despite issues I had with some aspects of this book, that I recommend it for anyone whose interested in real-life World War Two stories and the handicaps with which privileged children are born.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

D-Day by Stephen E Ambrose


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second of Ambrose’s books I’m reviewing. The first was called Crazy Horse and Custer wherein he attempted to show that the two leaders at the Battle of the little big Horn led parallel lives and he failed in doing so in my opinion. He does a better job, fortunately confined to a single chapter in this volume, in showing the parallel lives of Erwin Rommel and Dwight Eisenhower.

This book describes events leading up to, and the execution of the D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944 in the effort to retake Europe from Hitler’s entrenched Wehrmacht. The Nazis had swept through Europe with their Blitzkrieg tactics almost effortlessly, but now they faced the combined might of many nations and instead of attacking, they were defending.

Ambrose describes the state of affairs amongst the allies, focusing mostly, if rather arrogantly, on the USA. Out of thirty-two chapters, the rest of the allies (the British, the Canadians, the French) get a handful and are rather cursorily and derogatorily dealt with. He has some rather scathing remarks about the British, as though this was all their fault. At one point he writes: “The poison of pacifism had eaten into the souls of British youth…” (p50) which I found objectionable. Yes, pacifism is a complete failure in the face of aggression, especially such as that mounted by the Nazis and in more modern times by terrorists. If everyone adopted pacifism, none of this would have begun, but of course, humanity is not a pacifistic species. That said, to call pacifism a poison is overdoing it by a long shot.

It was without doubt interesting - although there is a mite too much detail for my taste! I was disturbed not only by the bravery of the men and how badly abused they were by the lethal German defenses, but by how poorly served they were by the people who were sending stuff into the beach behind them. The battle plan called for a sequence of unloading which was adhered to despite the fact that the beach battle was not going according to their plan. They seemed incapable of adjusting to what was really happening. This was poor leadership.

For example, most of the radios the men took ashore in the early waves were lost or damaged severely hampering communications, yet no one thought to send in more radios, evidently. Despite the fact that they did not competently hold the beach until later in the day, the ships were sending in matériel to a rigid plan rather than adapting to what was happening. Trucks, for example, were being sent in instead of tanks and heavy guns which would have been far more useful at that point.

Instead of splitting supplies between landing craft so that some of everything got through despite heavy losses, they loaded up the craft with large amounts of one thing, so that when that particular craft was destroyed, the one thing was lost in huge quantities. This happened to two craft carrying plasma - both were destroyed, hampering the efforts of the medics. There was a similar problem with ammunition.

Worse than this, those who did make it to the top of the bluff continued on inland as best they could trying to follow rigid orders instead of fanning out across the top of the bluff and wiping out the Germans who were firing down on the beach. If they had worked to eliminate that threat immediately, they would have freed up the guys on the beach who could then have come up the bluff and made their way inland to carry out the original plan.

One problem as leadership - or lack of it. The officers were typically the first people off the landing craft and so were shot down with startling efficiency, and the rest of their men were often stuck, not only held down by heavy defensive fire, but also through lack of someone to tell them what to do. It was only through individual initiative rather than cohesive leadership that anything got done, and the major leadership - people like the revered Eisenhower and Montgomery were AWOL.

The fact that the higher-ups didn't know what was happening on the beach or up on the bluffs didn't help, of course. Direct line of sight was obscured by heavy smoke, and there was virtually no radio communication.

So this makes for a sad and irritating read, but it does describe in great detail the hell that these people went through and for that, it's a worthy read.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Sweetness by Sande Boritz Berger


Title: The Sweetness
Author: Sande Boritz Berger
Publisher: She Writes Press
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

I don't see any value to recommendations in the front of an ebook. In the print version they may sway a potential reader leafing through the pages in a book store. They would not sway me because I don't know any of those people, so their opinion carries no weight, especially since nearly all of them appear to originate from within the author's own community.

All they did was to make me wonder why they could find no one outside of that community to recommend this, or even if they actually asked - and if not, then why not? To put these in an ebook strikes me as ridiculous, because no one leafs-through an ebook. It's not even possible until you actually buy it! By then, of course, you already have the ebook in your possession, presumably because you already decided to read it, so what, exactly, is the point of these very limited recommendations? I don't know! I do find it curious, though. I think it's a symptom of the fact that print publishers have not actually begun to properly grasp the possibilities and the implications of the electronic book universe.

Set in World War Two, this novel follows the lives of two girls, Rosha in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, and Mira in New York City, USA, who are cousins separated not only by the Atlantic ocean, but by a whole lifestyle. Mira is trying to break into the fashion business, whereas Rosha is in a country where the value of life is rapidly going out of fashion, especially if you're Jewish, Romany, gay, or otherwise classified as a person of vilification by the Nazis.

I think it might have been easier to enjoy this had I not recently read the real thing, Bedtime stories, and events from the Rear Case described by Anne Frank, which for me, I admit, set a standard that's going to be hard for anyone to surpass. I simply could not get into this novel no matter how hard I tried. It did not draw me in, nor did it engross me or make me want to turn pages. I could not find any compelling reason to pursue the story. I did not find myself interested in the characters.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me confess right here that I have no more respect for the fashion industry and those in it than I do for the cosmetics industry. I really don't. Both businesses are a grotesque insult to, and an abuse of women. I find them shallow, self-centered and petty, so Mira's story was pretty much a non-starter for me!

I could have become interested in her had there been something to spark such an interest, but there was not. Indeed, I found it very shallow, if not callous of her to be pursuing her petty interests safe in NYC, when her family in Europe was in such grave danger. Rosha's story was much more interesting, but even there, it was nothing new. I've read her story many times before, and there was nothing about this one to captivate me.

First of all, unlike with Anne Frank's case, this is fiction, and even though it has roots in reality, for me it needs to offer a lot more than just being another retreaded World War Two tragedy/drama if it's going to garner for itself any traction. When reading a story like this I have to ask: why was it written? What is its purpose? Was it because the story in question, over all others, has something new and original to impart to us? Or was it simply written because stories of this nature so readily sway a certain readership, and often garner awards for themselves not necessarily for any literary merit, but because of their very nature alone?

Yes, those events in Nazi Germany were awful almost beyond imagination and credibility, yet they were nonetheless true. The problem is that whilst it's easy to say that we must never forget, and never allow that to happen again, everywhere we look in the modern world, genocide does still happen: in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in the Sudan.

Unless you have a really original and striking story to relate - something which offers us a different category of interest than that which has been offered before (which IMO this novel does not), then it seems to me that it's quite wrong to continue to demand that we focus on the events of a half-century ago when there are much more recent, just as horrible tragedies which are in serious danger of being all-too-quickly forgotten. It seems to me that writers do the memory of those people from World War Two just as much a disservice as they do modern victims of equally horrible pogroms, by pouring out so many fictional accounts which offer nothing that's not already been trampled well down to the level of the insipid and the mediocre by scores of other heedless and ill-placed feet.

We must never forget, of course, what happened back then, but the saying remains true, that familiarity breeds contempt. So I have to ask: how easy is it for people to let their eyes slide away unseeing when presented with this plethora of stories focused on essentially the same thing? How much does it simply inure us against feeling anything for those real victims, to have fictional stories routinely trotted-out like a troupe of circus ponies? Does it not make more sense to for us to remember them by being keenly aware of the fact that whilst those people are lost to us forever, the mentality which hurt them so badly has not been lost? It's today's horrors upon which we must focus if we're to truly honor they who died the same way, albeit more than half a century ago.

It is for these reasons that I cannot recommend this novel.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein





Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: TBD

Well I have to rate this one as warty. I started it and could find nothing whatsoever in the first few pages to interest me. I started skipping pages because the last thing I was interested in was air-headed girlie gossip written in a totally unrealistic first person, when I'd picked up a novel that was touted as being about World War Two! No wonder Hyperion didn't want a reviewer like me to get hold of this novel! But their ludicrous attempt at half-hearted censorship failed; I waited patiently and now I've seen it and it's not good enough.

Wein's desire to publicize the horrors of World War Two is admirable, if very belated. That war was horrible, but it was almost three-quarters of a century ago. There are new horrors now, and there have been ever since World War Two. They are just as bad as what happened then, and on just as large a scale, if nowhere near as concentrated, and it's those horrors - the ones which are not so high profile but which are just as bad - ones about which we can do something now, which are in greater need of the publicity. So why isn't Wein focused on those if she wants to write a crusading novel?

I invite Elizabeth Wein and others to think of a number. Not any number, but a specific nine million. It could be the nine million children who have starved to death in 2013. It could be "merely" nine million kids who aren't insured by "the best country in the world" in 2013, and will not be insured if the god-fearing 'suffer little children to come onto me" Republican party has its way. It could be the nine million children who were refugees in 2013. It could be the nine million children who will die in 2013 before they reach their fifth birthday. Six million Jews and all the others slaughtered, harassed, bullied, belittled and degraded in a religious crusade between the mid-nineteen thirties and 1945 is awful. It must NEVER happen again; it must never be forgotten, but it was 70 years ago. That nine million (pick one; pick any one) is happening right now. Let's keep our eye on the ball.

Likewise, Wein's efforts to publicize the contribution women made to the war effort is commendable, but I don't think you get to where Wein thought she was taking us by starting from frivolity and nonsense. Not unless you're a more skilled writer than Wein showed herself to me to be, because in my case she certainly failed and failed dismally. I was turned off this from the start. She should have begun this story from the point where Rose takes off and gets herself captured, bypassing the fluff and frou-frou and making a much better impression on me. Clearly she doesn't care about impressing readers like me.

If she had at least made the capture an adventure, it might have turned it around, but she wasn't even interested in doing that much. The capture was poorly written. She has Rose captured by two Messerschmitt 262's, the Germans' only jet-powered World War Two aircraft. These cool-looking airplanes then casually escorted Rose across France and into Germany. Never once did she try to put her plane down on the ground or to jump out and let it crash, thereby keeping it and herself out of the hands of the Germans. Nope, she meekly let these same two planes - which had severely limited air-time because of the fact that they were gas-guzzling jets with two hungry engines - lead her like a whipped puppy all the way into Germany and she never so much as emitted a squeak of protest, much less demonstrated one. Not only is that length of a flight not gonna happen with that type of aircraft, even if it could have happened, I wasn't about to read a story about a supposed hero who gives up everything in a cowardly fashion without even thinking of any kind of a fight. Sorry!

At that point, after the cheery, pally conversation she had with her German captors, blabbing everything but her name, rank, and number, that I could not stand to read this crap any more, and I closed the book on Elizabeth Wein, who started out ostensibly championing women in World War Two and ended-up (or was it up-ended?) insulting the legacy of bravery of the very non-fictional women who did put in their time and serve their country. And the hero's name is Rose Justice? Honestly? I am done with Elizabeth Wein. This was a warty read.