Book Review: Balls of Leather and Steel and A Gordian Web by Guy Butler

Two things drew me to this series: 1) the author shares the same name as my husband and 2) it’s WWII themed.

Here is the synopsis:

Balls of Leather and Steel

This is a story with BALLS! The leather and steel kind. 

balls Since the day he was born, Malcolm McClain has led a charmed life. By his mid-twenties he was a household name throughout Europe, recognized as one of the finest professional soccer players on the planet. At the start of World War II, Malky joins the Royal Air Force to great fanfare – a national treasure doing his part. Then he’s shot down over Yugoslavia and captured by the Nazis. 

Adolf Hitler now plans a scurrilous propaganda campaign to demoralize the British by claiming McClain has betrayed them by becoming a Nazi. 

Chez Orlowski is an unwanted orphan in Poland after first his mother, then his father dies. As a teenager, he’s protecting his sister from his abusive stepmother when he finds himself arrested and thrown into a Nazi hard labor camp. After dodging death every day, he finally escapes with only one goal in mind: to cause mayhem as a Polish freedom fighter. Chez is clever, relentless and utterly fearless in his crusade to wreak havoc and terrorize the Nazis occupying his country. He becomes a hero to the Polish people, who call him The Spider. 

When the Yugoslavian Partizani get wind of Hitler’s plans for Malcolm McClain, they vow to wreck them. Their best option involves persuading The Spider to use his special talents to extract McClain from Stalag 306 and whisk him back to safety. 

But the story does not end there…..

And for A Gordian Web:  

gordianWhen Germany invades Poland in 1939, the Nazi regime tosses dissidents into labor camps to break the will of the 
people. Every day Czeslaw Orlowski, an orphaned teenager, fights for his life in the camps then escapes to become a thorn in the side of the oppressors. By the time the Nazis retreat to Berlin, the young Pole has instilled hope in his countrymen through the exploits of the legend known as The Spider. 

With the pending Allied victory in Europe, Poland becomes a pawn played by the Soviet Union against the West. At the top of the NKGB’s agenda: find and crush The Spider. Hiding in plain sight on a farm in Western Silesia, for Czeslaw, his new bride and family it’s only a matter of time before the Russians close the noose around them. 

The Spider has only one hope—to ask the British for help. In response, a covert Special Forces Squad—The Black Widows—is launched in a clandestine extraction attempt behind Russian lines. 

In return, Czeslaw will be asked to contribute his special talents to a personal mission for Winston Churchill. 

The Spider then confronts a Gordian knot: must he keep his promise to the Prime Minister by slicing that knot—or cut the throat of his arch nemesis?

Both books captivated me.  I loved the characters, the action, the audacity of the author to plant the seed in the mind of his readers that WWII history might not be what it has been portrayed.

The first book started out a little slow, it took awhile for me to get into it, but it picks up speed around the time WWII breaks out.

I will caution those students of WWII, read this book with the suspension of reality.  The historian part of me wants to find any true accounts of these characters, but after I did find the author’s father on wikipedia, I decided to just read it with an open mind.

I truly, truly, truly enjoyed the story.  Mainly because I love all the WWII espionage, secret mission type of books and because this book is clearly written with love.  The author’s admiration for these characters is palpable.

In the second book, there are some grammatical/spelling/formatting errors, and at times the actual “plot” that Chez overhears toward the end of the book isn’t exactly clear, at least in my mind, but the aftermath is crystal clear.

Also the German/Russian/Polish interspersed throughout the book is a little confusing.  I think the author tries to provide a translation in English in the same sentence, but at times it is confusing.  I don’t know if this is because I, like most Americans, only speak English.  I had the same difficulty reading a similar book, It Never Was You by William E. Thomas, that employs German and a very vibrant portrayal of a Liverpudlian accent (scuse?).

One thing the second book does very well is to portray the difficulty faced by the Polish people toward the end of WWII.  They had suffered tremendously under the Nazis.  But after they are finally rid of the Nazis, Stalin and his boys come to town and set up shop.

Prior to reading this account, I have never truly given much thought to the Eastern Front.  I have read about Stalingrad, but in terms of these types of character driven accounts, I have been ignorant.  Mr. Butler clearly portrays the absolute horror felt by those who survived the Nazi occupation, only to suffer under another, more brutal master.

As a result, I am now reading “The Fall of Berlin 1945” by Antony Beevor.  I love it when books make me think about something I haven’t considered much before.

I also love the romance story featuring the main characters and their eventual wives.

Overall a great read.  Recommended to anyone who likes this part in 2oth century history, who likes adventure and espionage.  Very well done.

 

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Favs for 2012

As of right now, I have read 125 books this year.  All kinds of books, across all genres.  Mainly ebooks.  Due to my financial situation during the last half of the year, most of the books were free via the kindle lending library or on smashwords.  I also review books posted on bookbloggers.net.

This year I started branching out of my usual reading patterns and started reading more horror, romance and erotica.  Thanks to the phenomenon of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, apparently most women have started on the “mommy porn” craze.  You can read my ideas on “Fifty” here and here.

And zombies!! I started watching “The Walking Dead” after the first season, yet I didn’t start reading zombie books until this year.  And now I’m hooked.

Here is a list of my favs (that I read) this year, in no particular order:

Crossfire trilogy by Sylvia Day– I love this romance/erotic series much more than “Fifty”, I outlined my reasons above.  I just feel that it is more realistic, better written, and takes in to account that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in some way during their lifetime.  This in mind, some of the BDSM presented in “Fifty” are huge triggers for survivors.  Can’t wait for the next book in May 2013.

Future Perfect by Tony Bayliss– My fav religous/political statement book.  Very intense and thought provoking. For another amazing read, try Past Continuous as well.

There Goes the Galaxy by Jen Thorson – Fun, hilarious, an epic journey through space.  Absolutely loved it.

Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre – I am a huge fan of these books.  Yes, spy books are fun, but these are TRUE spy books outlining the missions and lives of real spies who helped to save the world.

Automaton by Cheryl Davies – futuristic sci-fi with a romantic twist.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – what more can be said?

Faking It by Elisa Lorello – my first foray into a different kind of chik lit.

War Brides by Helen Bryan – I love historical fiction, this book was very emotional and provided a different perspective on WWII.

And I can’t pick a favorite zombie book…I loved all of the ones I read, check through my reviews.  I love the Zombie Bible series by Stant Litore, I finally read World War Z by Max Brooks and the Zombie Orgins Series by Kristen Middleton is funny and thrilling.

Any suggestions for 2013?  Any new genres I should explore?  What are your favs for this past year?

Spy vs. Spy

Ah…now we get into the really nerdy stuff.  I am a history buff and proud of it.  I am of the opinion that you have to know where you have been in order to know where you are going.  It is absolutely appalling that so many teenagers (and here I sound really old) and young adults have no clue what the older generations have sacrificed in order to provide them with the freedoms that they enjoy today.  Good Lord I sound like I just had dinner at Denny’s at 4 in the afternoon.

I do come from military people, both my grandfathers have served, one in WWII in the Navy in the Pacific, although he saw no action (it was in the very end of the war) and another in Korea and Vietnam.  That grandfather was career military.  More on that in another post.

This post is about espionage.  I am a huge fan of the true spy books by Ben Macintyre.  I started with Agent Zigzag. moved on to Operation Mincemeat and recently finished Double Cross.  These books, if written as fiction, would sound too dramatic or unbelievable.  But these books are extensively researched and are based upon recently declassified materials from the British wartime spy services (think MI:5, MI:6 as in James Bond).  Its fascinating to note the Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, was a young officer during WWII and actually worked on Operation Mincemeat.

I love these books because of their authenticity.  I can actually point to a historical event, like the invasion of Sicily, and read about Operation Mincemeat and learn all about the minute details that went in to pulling off a deception plan of that magnitude.

The way they are written is extremely helpful as well.  Macintyre does an amazing job of keeping the reader’s attention and writing as though it is a novel, not a nonfiction book of spying and deception.  He could have spewed dry facts paragraph after paragraph.  Instead, he weaves an intricate story, builds tension and suspense page after page so that it does read like a good spy book.  The fact that it is all true makes it even that much better.

I also enjoy my U.S. Civil War history as well.  Before I had my Kindle, I read huge paperback books.  The Secret War for the Union:  The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War by Edwin C. Fishel is one of those books (760 pages). Its worth it though.  This book provides an overview of how both sides  developed intelligence systems and put them to use throughout the Civil War.  The author himself worked in the NSA and applied his intelligence minded brain to sort through previously unknown documents found in the National Archives.  These documents  illustrate that the Union had far superior intelligence gathering and processing capabilities, but the South utilized their intelligence information in a more effective manner.  Ultimately worth the read to anyone who is a true Civil War buff or who is interested in the history of espionage in the U.S.

I have yet to visit the Spy Museum in D.C.  It is on my bucket list.  I have yet to get in to any kind of spy books per se.  Maybe that is the next genre I tackle.

Does reading a romance novel featuring a James Bond like character count?

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