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.

 

Amanda’s Favs for 2013 Part Two

Here is the second part of my favorites list.

These are books that I have read and haven’t reviewed. Most I get from my monthly Kindle Lending Library allotment. Some are series I picked up when the first book was offered for free.  Some of the larger press books come from my weekly library run.

Favorite zombie book:  Apocalypse Z:  Darker Days by Manel Loureiro translated by Pamela Carmell.  I found apoczthis series a year ago, and I have already pre-ordered the third installment.  I have to wait til May!! Very well written, I love the European take on things.  A page turner.  Definitely recommended.

Honorable mention:  The Zomblog Series by T.W. Brown and The Remaining by D.J. Molles.

Favorite self-help book:  Invisible Scars:  How to Stop, Change or End Psychologicalinvisscars Abuse by Catharine Dowda.  I left an abusive marriage nearly five years ago.  He never once hit me.  But the verbal and emotional abuse has caused deep wounds that I am still healing.  What I liked about this book in particular is that it gave me a name to put with some of his behavior.  That I can name some of the abuse I suffered is extremely helpful.

Favorite history book:  Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.  I reviewed his new book this year, Frozen in Time and just had to go and read this book.  

Favorite romance/erotica:  Entwined with You by Sylvia Day.  I love me some Crossfire series.  Much more realistic than “Fifty”, deals with deeper issues on the part of both characters.  Can’t wait for the fourth one.  And I think I would love to see this one made into a movie more than “Fifty”.

draculaFavorite paranormal romance:  Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta.  So not what you think of when you think “paranormal romance”.  And not a typical romance either.  I loved it.

Favorite YA romance (paranormal):  Significance Series by Shelly Crane.  Very sweet, very intriguing.

 

Favorite YA romance:  Fight or Flight by Jamie Canosa.  Very heart-rending.  Extremely emotional.

Favorite mash up:  The Fridgularity by Mark A. Rayner — humorous, apocalyptic, with a technology twist.   Loved it. fridge

And my total for this year is 152 books.  And counting…

Book Review– America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One by Burton Yale Pines

ww1

The author of this book kindly sent me a physical copy of his work.  I read it over the summer, and now that it has been released, I can post my review.

I am a history buff.  Mainly focused on the U.S. Civil War era and WWII.  But I am always up for learning more about other periods in history.

Interestingly, my great grandfather fought for the U.S. during this war.  My husband’s grandfather fought for Italy.

Prior to reading this book, I had absolutely nothing but a vague knowledge of the WWI.  I did read Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo in high school, but it mainly dealt with the individual horror of war, and not the actual actions.

I also am a fan of Metallica, and their epic song One is about WWI.  I had an awesome A.P. history teacher in high school that screened the music video for us.

This book helped me to see the bigger picture of that war.

Here is the synopsis:

Entering World War One against Germany was America’s greatest blunder of the 20th century. America had no reason to join the 3-year-old struggle. By sending two million doughboys to the Western Front, America shattered the battlefield stalemate, allowing Britain and France to impose a devastating peace on Germany, thus igniting toxic German cries for revenge. Absent America’s entry into the war, the exhausted combatants would have sought a peace of compromise. There would have been no victor, no vanquished, no Versailles Treaty, no German demands for revenge, no Hitler and surely no World War II and even no Cold War. The tale of how America stumbled into war is told by America’s Greatest Blunder. It chronicles America’s journey from sensible neutrality to its war declaration. It then describes how legions of doughboys won the war, giving victory to Britain and France – thus launching the young century on its course of decades of unprecedented violence.

I do have to mention that having no prior knowledge of anything regarding this time period in history, I had to go back and read up on it.  That helped tremendously, but if you already have a working knowledge, you should be fine.

The author has a way of engaging the reader in a very unique manner.  He explains things like he is sitting there having a conversation with you.  I loved it.  It helped me to make connections that I might not have with regards to which nation did what and when.

It is not a dry, rote rehashing of timeline and dates, it is specifically organized to prove his point.  And it is effective.

I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of what America was like in the early 20th century.  The progressive movement, the isolationism.  I was amazed to read about the propaganda employed throughout the war.

I also think that the author made his case.  He provides convincing evidence that had America not entered the war on the side of the Allies, the horrors of the 20th century might have been prevented.  Both sides were heading toward a stalemate.  And had America stayed out, the belligerants might have been forced to a more equal compromise, rather than the harsh peace imposed upon Germany.

The author clearly spells out the groundwork that lead to WWII, and the systemic murder of millions.  It also helped me to understand the reluctance of America to engage in WWII until we were outright attacked.  I understand how fathers who fought in WWI wanted to spare their sons from the horrors of war.

Overall a great read that furthered my interest in this time period.  I’m probably going to read more about it, thanks to this book.

If you love history as much as I do, give this a try.  You will not be disappointed.

My great-grandfather Manuel Amaya

My great-grandfather Manuel Amaya

Book Review: It Never Was You by William E. Thomas

itneverwasyouimage

This is another book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once.com.

This is book number 2 in the Cypress Branches Trilogy, following  Pegasus Falling.  As before, this author does an excellent job in hijacking emotions.  Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Harry Williamson is an ex-merchant seaman, a successful businessman and a loving family man. When he disappears from a ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea, his grieving family are left with more questions than answers. 

Who on earth is Mary Robinson? 
Why did Harry leave her a small fortune in his will? 
Had he been unfaithful to his beloved late wife, Lesley?

As they delve into his past, they discover he’s been harbouring a secret which threatens to tear apart the very 
fabric of their family history. 

What unfolds is the heartbreaking story of a quiet, middle class merchant seaman and his unexpected, tragic relationship with a beautiful and exuberant waitress from the Liverpool docks as they struggle to reconcile their feelings for each other with the ever changing attitudes of post-war Britain. 

The follow up to the acclaimed Pegasus Falling, It Never Was You continues Thomas’s epic and panoramic saga of how ordinary people coped with some of the most extraordinary and devastating events of the 20th century.

I read the first book, Pegasus Falling in a few days.  The characters, the writing and the emotion packed into that book absolutely enthralled me.  Here is the link for the review of Pegasus Falling.

As it was billed as a “trilogy”, I expected book two to pick up where book one ended.

Not so.  This book starts in modern day as Harry’s children are attempting to figure out what led to the death of their father and why he bequeathed part of his estate to a woman they have never heard of before.

Then there is a jump to the past.  Harry is a merchant seaman during WWII.  Harry rescues three other seamen before collapsing and nearly dying in the frigid water.  You learn just enough about two of the rescued seamen to hate them.

Then the character of Mary is introduced.  Her ordeal is tragic.  I had always heard about the class divisions in the U.K., but this book illustrates it perfectly.

Mary meets Harry, and the love story begins.

But can their passion for one another survive the class differences so prevalent during this time period?

Hampering their efforts to maintain a solid relationship, Harry is scheduled to be out at sea for a long period of time.

During one particularly long voyage, Harry meets Lesley, who was prominently featured in book one of the trilogy.  They seem perfect for each other.  Of the same class and education, they get along famously and begin an affair.  But when their ship docks, they agree to part as friends.

Reuniting with Mary, they both visit the hometowns of the other party and their class differences stand out starkly.

And here is where the emotion comes in.

While visiting Harry’s parents, Mary learns of a particular harrowing ordeal in her fiance’s past.  This ordeal also featured someone prominent in her past as well.  Up until this time, she had no idea that this person was known to the both of them.

This information sets in motion complete chaos in their relationship.

Mary and Harry don’t effectively discuss the common piece to both of their pasts.  Harry makes assumptions and ends up hurting Mary very deeply.  Mary makes assumptions as to Harry’s desires and makes the decision to effectively cut off ties.

The end of the book leaves more questions unanswered.

The way this book was written, you already know some pieces to the puzzle.  You know that one of the prominent characters from the first book eventually met and married Harry but it is unknown how their relationship evolved.  Hopefully this mystery is answered in the next book.

The strong emotion that featured prominently in the first book is back.  Again, Mr. Thomas had me crying toward the end of this book.

My only criticisms are again with the language.  As an America, I am not accustomed to reading dialogue that features English accents.  Mary’s “scuse” vernacular was very difficult to follow at times.  I could decipher most of the slang and the idioms used, but it was difficult at first.

I enjoyed learning about a place in the world that I don’t know much about.  I knew there were class differences that plague virtually every society since the dawn of time, including my own family, but I didn’t know how dramatic the differences were until I started reading about Mary and Harry.

It is unlike any other “historical fiction” type novels out there as it weaves in elements from the first book without it being a continuation of the story featured in the first.  I love how known characters from the first book pop up in the second.  I also loved seeing another dimension to a featured character from the first book.

You do not have to read Pegasus Falling to enjoy this book.  It can stand alone as a novel.  But I do recommend reading it in order to get familiar with the writing style of Mr. Harris, and to understand fully the characters that show up in the second installment.

Again, I will be eagerly awaiting the final installment.

Aside

Book Review: Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff


frozen in time 
This is a book reviewed for ireadabookonce.com, and possibly the most widely known author I have reviewed.  I was thrilled to review it.

I am a huge fan of anything that is about World War II and survival under the most trying circumstances.  This book was right up my alley.  Here is the synopsis:

Frozen in Time is a gripping true story of survival, bravery, and honor in the vast Arctic wilderness during World War II, from the author of New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La.

On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

A breathtaking blend of mystery and adventure Mitchell Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and a tribute to the everyday heroism of the US Coast Guard.

This book reminded me of Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption”.  Much like that book captivated me, this one did as well.

I grew up in the northeast, so I know cold.  But not this type of cold: “Cold in Greenland is almost a living thing, a tormenting force that robs strapping men of strength, denies them rest, and refuses them comfort.  In time, it kills like a python, squeezing life from its victims.”

Mitchell Zuckoff paints such a vivid picture of the landscape.  The ice, the snow, the crevasses.  The day to day torment of living on a glacier with a thin skin of aluminum to block out the wind and cold.

This book is absolutely thrilling.  From the dual stories of the men marooned on this barren wasteland alternating with the push for an expedition to find artifacts, both stories are equally compelling.

I honestly feel that these types of true stories should be required reading in high schools.  The strength and fortitude exhibited by the soldiers in WWII helps to illustrate just how much has been sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy now.

The “greatest generation” is truly that.  I will always read books of this nature, and I look forward to Mr. Zuckoff’s sequel to this story, the one where the ending includes the team bringing the Duck home.

I give this book four stars for the way the information is presented and weaved into the story from today.  Mr. Zuckoff’s writing is impeccable and draws the reader in and keeps them interested throughout.  Although the reader knows that some of the crew survived from the very beginning, the reader just wants to know how, and what their lives were like after.

Highly recommended for those who have an interest in history, aviation, or a tale that takes place in one of the most inhospitable locations on the planet.

Book Review: A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford

spoonful of sugar

This is a book I reviewed for I Read a Book Once:

I really liked this book.  I was intrigued by the plot summary because I currently have a kindergartner and I love memoir.  Also, it was very interesting to read about a different culture’s philosophies on child rearing, especially in a very difficult time in the history of British people.  Here is the plot summary from amazon.com:

Brenda Ashford is the quintessential British nanny. Prim and proper, gentle and kind, she seems to have stepped straight out of Mary Poppins. For more than six decades Nanny Brenda swaddled, diapered, dressed, played with, sang to, cooked for, and looked after more than one hundred children. From the pampered sons and daughters of lords ensconced in their grand estates to the children of tough war evacuees in London’s East End, Brenda has taught countless little ones to be happy, healthy, and thoroughly well bred. In this delightful memoir, Brenda shares her endearing, amusing, and sometimes downright bizarre experiences turning generations of children into successful adults.

From the moment Brenda first held her baby brother David she was hooked. She became a second mother to him, changing his nappies, reading him stories, and giving him all the love her warm heart contained. Knowing a career caring for children was her calling in life, Brenda attended London’s prestigious Norland College, famous for producing top-notch nannies. It was a sign of privilege and good taste for the children of the well-to-do to be seen being pushed in their Silver Cross prams by Norland nannies, who were recognizable by their crisp, starched black uniforms with white bib collars, and their flowing black capes lined with red silk. And what skills were these trainees tested on daily? Lullaby singing, storytelling, pram shining, bed making, all forms of sewing, cooking simple meals, and dispensing first aid—including knowing the best way to help the medicine go down.

In A Spoonful of Sugar, Brenda recalls her years at Norland and her experiences during the war (after all, even if bombs are dropping, there’s no reason to let standards slip), and recounts in lovely detail a life devoted to the care of other people’s children.

Sprinkled throughout with pearls of wisdom (you can never give children too much love, and you should learn how to sew a button, for goodness’ sake), this delightful memoir from Britain’s oldest living nanny is practically perfect in every way.

The beginning starts out very slow.  Although I appreciated the knowledge about Ms. Ashford’s specific training, I wanted to get into the meat of the book, her experiences with children.

I loved the beginning of the chapters which included a nursery rhyme, tips on child-rearing and sometimes a recipe for a British dish.

In particular, the tips on child-rearing have already helped me with my child.  I love the fact that Ms. Ashford believes in raising children with love, not strict discipline.  Her school’s motto:  “Love never faileth” is demonstrated time and time again throughout her interactions in the book.

I particularly found interesting her experience running a nursery during World War II. I literally felt tired just reading the descriptions of her schedule for the day which also graced the beginning of every chapter.

Also, Ms. Ashford’s long career illustrated the changes that have occurred in Western society throughout the 20th century.  When Ms. Ashford graduated Norlan in 1939, children were expected to be seen and not heard.  Additionally, children were often segregated from much of family life.  Parents often “visited” their children in the nursery for maybe two or three hours per day.  All of the care of the children, from bathing, to feeding, to playing was carried out by the nanny.  Newborns were often kept in the nanny’s room for the first few months with the nanny having the parents perform a few feedings per day.  This is just the way it is done, especially at that time in Great Britain.

Nowadays, especially in my own case, my child slept with me in my room for the first four months.  I was responsible for day to day care and took my child to another location to be cared for while I worked.  I would have loved having Nurse Brenda help me out during those first three months because I can no longer recall them.

One issue I do have with the book is the language issues.  This book looks like it was written for American audiences or at least modified for this purpose.  The spellings of particular words are in American English, such as neighbor and neighbour. With the recipes included in the book, the measurements of different ingredients are given in the units customary to the United States.  However, strictly British lingo is used throughout.

I could determine that “nappies” are diapers, and a “pram” is a stroller, but some words I couldn’t figure out.  I tried using my dictionary, and sometimes it would help, but at other times, the term was not found.  I would have appreciated a type of glossary, or just the American equivalent inserted next to the word in question in parentheses.

I enjoyed this book immensely, I loved the way it was written like you were sitting next to the author and listening to her review her life.  This book is highly recommended if you like memoir, history and those who have an interest in child-rearing.

I also wish Nurse Brenda was available for on-call duties to assist me with my spunky child.

You can head on over to I Read a Book Once and enter the drawing for a chance to win a copy of this book.

Book Review: Pegasus Falling by William E. Thomas

© Rglinsky | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Rglinsky | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I initially wrote this review for ireadabookonce.com.  You can see the post on that website here.

This is an amazingly powerful book.  It is part of a trilogy, and the second part is due this spring.  The book is written by William E. Thomas, who was recruited into the Parachute Regiment in the British army during WWII.  He was a decorated soldier during his numerous drops into enemy territory.  According to the “about the author” section, Mr. Thomas began his writing career after he retired from a civilian position as a lab technician.  In 2006, Mr. Thomas was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and now resides in a care center.  His family is promoting his literature.

Here is the plot summary (from amazon.com):  “Arnhem, 1944. Captain Stanley Adam Malcolm Parker – Sammy to his friends – and his platoon have fought bravely, but it was always a losing battle. The bridge was unwinnable. After he and his men are forced into cattle trucks and transported across Germany on a three day journey without food or water, Sammy lashes out at an SS officer with brutal and devastating consequences…for him and his German opponent.

Instead of spending the rest of his war as a POW, Sammy is sent to a concentration camp.

Spared an immediate death, Sammy discovers firsthand the full horror of the final solution. Amongst the desperation and destitution of the camp, he encounters Naomi, a Jewish housewife from Dresden. Having seen her family murdered, Naomi has learned to survive by making the most unimaginable of sacrifices. She is the woman who Sammy comes to depend on to survive himself.

But when the camp is finally liberated, the couple are separated and Sammy embarks on a journey across a continent devastated by war and wracked by ongoing tensions to find out what happened to the woman he loves.”

Initially, I was confused about the characters and the timeline.  There are different chapters, but from one paragraph to another many months may have passed.  It was difficult at times to figure out the ‘when’ and ‘where’ and ‘who’ of a passage.  But as the book continues, the reader gets used to this type of formatting and begins to look for the “clues” to the time frame and character with each new paragraph.  If I would change anything about this book that would be it:  making the chapters more succinct and clarifying the characters.

Another issue was the different phrases and use of the German language throughout the book.  Perhaps being American puts me at a disadvantage here, as most Americans only speak English (and poorly at times).  But I think something is lost when the reader is unable to figure out the communication between some characters.  For example:  when Sammy is first encountering the Germans, almost a full page of German is used. Occasionally a device will be employed to convey the gist of the conversation, i.e. someone translating, but overall I found myself lost during those passages.

Additionally, British spellings and British idioms are used throughout.  The onboard dictionary loaded into my Kindle was extremely helpful, but the majority of times, the term I was searching for could not be found. I enjoy learning these new terms, but sometimes it is difficult to read through, especially when the reader can only understand every third word.  But it did lend a truly interesting tone to the entire book.

This book is a very powerful piece of literature.  It is extremely moving, emotional, and raw.  The story is engrossing, a page turner at times.  I did not expect it to be so romantic, and I am amazed that a man was able to pour that much emotion into the book.  It is at once a testament to the horrors of war, a love story, a history of the Holocaust and the subsequent founding of the nation of Israel.

The love story on many accounts is amazing.  The idea of someone surviving something as horrible as the Holocaust because of the love of another is mesmerizing.  The reader actually aches during the passages that feature separation.  It is also a commentary on different types of love.  Love between man and wife, love between fellow survivors, love between friends.

Overall, I give this book a 4.5 star rating.  I am intensely anticipating the next installment.  The entire work is collectively called The Cypress Branches, and the second part is to be released soon.  I will be one of the first in line (figuratively) for this book.

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