Book reviews - 2019

Another year, another list..

Score (out of 10)
The Christmas 2018 Dickens.... not often I  get to start the year in such a high but such is the case with this one...  it is my tradition every Christmas to read a Charles Dickens, and in previous years have read David Copperfield (good), Nicholas Nickleby (exceptional), The Old Curiosity Shop (OK), Tale of Two Cities (disappointing), Olive Twist (good), and Christmas Carol (short but good) I was looking for options when I remembered that this book had formed the basis of one of the main plot lines in the much enjoyed "Dickensian" BBC drama of a few years ago..  decision we have the story of the foundling boy Pip, Mrs Haversham, Satis House, the truly horrible but turned nice Estella, his Uncle Joe (lovely depiction), the lawyer, Jaggers (WAY better than the depiction in "Dickensian") and over all Magwitch the escaped convict. Stunning piece of work, laugh out loud funny in places, irritating in others - cracking read and I was genuinely a bit depressed when I'd finished it - the sign of a good book...10
Kindle bargain...  see review [clicky]10
First read this when I was only just a teenager and it's just as much fun now..  I have this one earmarked to read to grandson as I think he'd like it in a year or two..  Emil goes to visit his grandmother in the city, and while he asleep on the train is robbed of some money his mother has given to him to give to his grandmother..  how he gets it back is the subject of the story which is set in Berlin in Weimar period..  lovely...9
A good but short introduction to the major battlefield organisation changes of the late 16th to mid 17th centuries, giving an overview of the Dutch, Swedish, and composite German methods and how they were utilised in the 30 Years War, the Bishops War, and the English Civil War. A damn good primer..8
I cannot rate this series highly enough and would recommend all of them without reservation -  the books [clicky] are set against the British submarine service in the Second World War and feature 'wavy Navy' officer Harry Gilmour - this is the fourth and Harry has been int he service coming on for two years and has been invited to do the Perisher course, the passing of which is the precursor (and still is), for submarine command. Having passed it Harry is posted to the Mediterranean based first at Malta where he commands a number of submarines in temporary capacities before finally being given his own. The books are hugely good on detail, what it was like to serve in a submarine at the time, the attack descriptions re excellent..  at the end Harry and his submarine are transferred to another command and he comes up against an old enemy (in his own service!)..  'nuff said, no spoilers, can't wait for part 5! 9
Not one of his classics, but eminently readable as you would expect..  he'll always be a story teller even when he's not trying very hard, as is the case here I thought..  quite short, and almost a collection of short stories welded into a single book - a young computer genius is taken under the wing of an old Cold War warhorse, and unleashed on the enemies of the free world..  good fun, completely implausible, but an entertaining read and not a waste of time..  besides, the baddies get spanked...  
You can almost set your watch by these now, though having said that there was a two year wait for this one, and is it sacrilege to say I didn't really miss it until it arrived? Oh don't get me wrong I'll always read anything Bernard C. puts out I even enjoyed "Fools and Mortals" (which was the reason for the delay in this one coming out I think) but this series has long gone past the point I think it should have stopped...  I wouldn't be able to tell you what happened in each of the previous books because to be honest they are all the same..  Uhtred saves the day and there is a shield wall or two..  oh, and the Christian Saxons are largely perfidious, and the Pagan Norse are wicked but largely good fellows you would have a drink with...  and so it is with this book as well..  there are signs that Uhtred is getting older and slowing down, there are signs that the English as a nation are coming, and you know there is going to be another book..  enjoy it like a comfy pair of slippers, nothing new to see here but enjoyable none the less..
I regret to say I had to put this one down unfinished - probably me but I found the number of main characters difficult to track and the action shifts around all over the place and in time (I think) and int he end it was hurting my brain....3
I've read this one before, but a long time ago - set in the early days of the Punic Wars of the Roman republic this series is about the birth of the Classis Romanum - the Roman Navy - and the ability it gave them to extend their military presence in the Mediterranean. In this first book the background is the Carthaginian invasion of Sicily where two Roman Legions are campaigning, and now stranded as a result of the blockade by the Carthaginian fleet. Against such a background we have the military and political manoeuvrings that resulted in a Roman fleet taking to the water in a little less than a month..  excellent!9
Atticus and Septimus continue to serve in the Roman navy facing off against the same foe as the last book, the Carthaginians - Sicily continues to be the focus of campaigning, and this time they face a cleverer and more thoughtful hero..  Political shenanigans in the Senate continue but eventually - against all the odds - turns out a Consul who Atticus (as a Greek born Roman) can at least begin to respect. He has however made enemies, and Scipio, and his new poster boy Varo, continue to cause trouble for his imagined failings  ...  elsewhere the arms race steps up and the trireme's are being superseded by the quinquiremes..  exciting stuff - another volume to go but first a small change to re-wet the appetite...9
First in the Maigret series, and it is  now on my bucket list to read all of them following that sublime Christmas themed short story selection I read in December which well and truly got me hooked...  stupidly easy reading, but the story has more twists than a twisty thing, the background of 1930's Paris is gorgeous in all it's light and shade, and you just got to like Maigret..  he's a stayer...  no spoilers, but Petr the Latvia has an interesting past, and is a major player in international financial hoax's...9
The last in the trilogy, and Atticus has been promoted to the Roman naval equivalent of Admiral (Prefect) in command of a fleet of the new quinqiremes.. As a non-Roman citizen his life continues to be turbulent, and despite the respect of a number of the leading senators/leaders, as Greek born, he is looked upon with suspicion...  his love life in tatters due to his Greek birthright which has also estranged his friendship with Septimus, he is also subject to plots by a number of his enemies from the past including Scipio who has been re-voted consul.. all (of course) ends well, with Rome triumphant at sea, and the Carthaginian's for the time being at least subject to a harsh peace...  8
Fresh from his exploits in the Baltic and after a short spot of home leave Kydd and the crew of the Tyger are sent to Spain and Portugal in support of the blockade and are on station when through a series of strategies Bonaparte invades and claims the throne of Spain..  the Spanish rebel, and after years of enmity Britain finds itself allied with Spain in the war against Napoleon. The books details the period leading up to the retreat of Sir John Moore and is well up to the best of the previous books..  recommended...8
Oh my, well worth the wait...  final part of the trilogy, and after a long, brutal, and exhausting war the book opens where the last one ended with a wounded and recovering Trickey (the hero of the book) hiding out on a farm in Italy, and encouraged to return to the regiment (the Para's). He is back in time for Arnhem (as we know) and this book is about the fighting in Arnhem, but also more specifically about the last days of Rommel (who he has met, and knows) and the activities of SOE. Superb..  Radcliffe is a yarn teller for sure...9
A bit of a whistle stop apologia for the actions of the Earl of Essex while in charge of Parliaments main field army at the time.The authors are well known (especially for their Edgehill book which isa must read on my project) and they specifically state that the coverage of the earl's battle is deliberately kept shoprt as their are plenty of other books (including theirs ) available that do it in more detail. it's an interesting book that left me with two thoughts - one they really did need a little more detail on the battles, and two, for an apologia it had the reverse outcome of what the authros actually wanted. I got to the end of it and couldn't help thinking that Essex came across as a bit of whiner..  he was overly attentive of his position as commander in chief, spent a lot of time bickering with both his political masters, and his fellow generals over questions of position and status, and at the end of it I was left with a far poorer impression of him than clearly his soldiers had - it may well be of course that he just had two sides, but I didn't warm to him..  even his strokes of tactical genius as described by the authors seemd to me to be a bit, errr, lucky..  good book, some decent background, fails in the objective but still worth reading..8
This was a Kindle bargain a while ago and having had an interest in this particular war since my youth (when I first read Homage to Catalonia, For Whom the Bell Tolls, As I Walked Out One Summer Morning etc.) it was a "must buy". In much the same way as the English Civil War has always sat in the back of my mind as a potential wargames project this has also done the same...  I am fascinated by the possibilities of those inter war armoured vehicles, planes, Moroccan's, and most of all the International Brigades. I still may very well do this one day (also either Wellington in India or Bonaparte in Egypt). This is the expanded version of the book that first came out a number of years ago, and is huge - but just over half the book is notes and bibliography. Covering from the very beginning of the war to well after the fighting ceased in mainland Spain, this is a huge old read - took me two weeks - it's also not an easy read...  The Republican's (and it's not always made clear, but they were the elcted government at the time hoistilities broke out) seemed doomed to fail from the very beginning - every shade of red (politically), yet none trusted the other and their ability to cooperate doomed them to failure from the beginning. What won the war for the Nationalists/Franco was
  • a singularity of purpose, 
  • the support of the western world who distrusted "Bolsheviks" almost as much as they wanted to appease Hitler/Mussolini (and thereby also stopped all means of waging war reaching the Republican armies except from Russia), 
  • the support of Hitler who used the war as a test bed and provided the Condor Legion (which was not just airforce, but tanks/artilery/infantry as well),
  • the support of Mussolini (who almost bankrupted Italy with the cost of the support provided)
  • the support of the Roman Catholic church - which among many other things influenced the US not to provide weapons to the Republicans as a result of lobbying by Roman Catholic pressure groups within the US
Points of interest for me - how much Russia and Germany gained from the war - the Spanish republican government transferred their gold reserves to the Russians as a way and means of continuing to get the arms and ammunition they needed to continue the war - the Russian accounting method was ver "interesting" in their favour. The Germans on the other hand got (if I remember rightly) 15% of the Spanish output of iron and steel as payment - set back the Spanish economy by years. In a practical way the Germans learnt how effective the 88 was in a ground attack role, how good the Stuka was (ditto), how they needed to urgently replace the Pz I as it came up against heavier Russian tanks, how to make fast/effective attacks with all arms..  the list goes on, and then there was Guernica.

Stunning book - well worth reading - and that project will come to fruition one day!

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