Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alone


Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory by [Korda, Michael]

















Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory- Michael Korda
Liveright Publishing Co
Release Date: September 19, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
📚📚

Synopsis: Bringing to vivid life the world leaders, generals, and ordinary citizens who fought on both sides of the war, Michael Korda, best-selling author of Clouds of Glory, chronicles the outbreak of hostilities, recalling as a prescient young boy the enveloping tension that defined pre-Blitz London, and then as a military historian the great events that would alter the course of the twentieth century.

May 1940 was a month like no other. The superior German war machine blazed into France, as the Maginot Line, supposedly "as firmly fixed in place as the Pyramids," crumbled in days. With the fall of Holland and Belgium, the imminent fall of Paris, the British Army stranded at Dunkirk, and Neville Chamberlain’s government in political freefall, Winston Churchill became prime minister on this historical nadir of May 10, 1941. Britain, diplomatically isolated, was suddenly the only nation with the courage and the resolve to defy Hitler.


No one, after all, could have ever imagined that the most unlikely flotilla of destroyers—Dutch barges, fishing boats, yachts, and even rowboats— would rescue over 300,000 men off the beach at Dunkirk and home to England. The miraculous return of the army was greeted with a renewed call for courage, and in the months that followed, the lives of tens of millions would be inexorably transformed, often tragically so, by these epochal weeks of May 1940.
It is this pivotal turning point in world history that Korda captures with such immediacy in Alone, a work that triumphantly demonstrates that even the most calamitous defeats can become the most legendary victories.
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Michael Korda's new book Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory examines the the early days of World War II.  Alone covers a lot of events, mostly from the British point of view but also French and German: Chamberlain's failed appeasement policy, France and England reluctantly being drawn back into war, Churchill becoming Prime Minister, Germany rewriting the use of tanks in warfare, conflicting personalities and agendas among allied generals.  All leading up to the evacuation of over 300,000 English and French troops from the beach of Dunkirk, late May 1940.  Scattered throughout the researched history are personal stories and a bit of family history as Korda reflects on his own memories as a 6 year old in a wealthy family of actors and movie makers.

Based on the book blurb for Alone, I had high hopes this would be a World War II history along the lines of Lynne Olson's Last Hope Island- meticulously researched, written with vivid detail and an eye for making individuals and their experiences leap off the page and into your mind.  Alone is certainly well researched.  I now have a much better understanding of the creation and purpose of the famed French Maginot Line after reading the early part of Alone.  The research into the French and British military leaders, their different approaches, their conflicts among themselves, and the difficulties they had in communicating with each other (not only with radios, and phones, but personal dislikes that often meant one man in charge wasn't on speaking terms with another) was well done and gave you a sense of what the chaos on the ground must have been like. How they accomplished any successes with so many personal clashes going on is (as is the case in most military histories I've read recently) amazing.

The Korda family moments interspersed within Alone were occasionally interesting, but generally felt like they belonged in a separate book.  Instead of showing what life on the home front was normally like, more often than not they showed how money could soften difficulties. Korda frequently mentions how his uncle Alex worked with Churchill and the government to make his (then current) movies into subtle propaganda designed to gain the sympathy and support of the United States.  The Thief of Baghdad and That Hamilton Woman were eventually made in the US to seem like 'regular' big budget Hollywood movies instead of British propaganda.  But the reader never gets an idea of what that meant, or if it worked- which would have made me much more interested in it.  The actual telling of the evacuation from Dunkirk only takes place in the last 100 or so pages of Alone and often seemed scattered and disorienting.  I'm sure that this is what the people on the ground experienced at the time, but I was hoping for a more coherent and understandable account to this interesting and unique moment in history.

Overall I was disappointed in Alone.  Instead of being a vivid account of a slice of history it was often repetitive, and choppily written.  Personal family stories didn't blend in to give us a better feeling for the time but mostly jarred the reader from the military narrative.  Military leaders and personalities blended together, making it hard to remember who was who (often even what side they were on) and even Winston Churchill didn't spring to life here.  The evacuation story itself almost seemed like an afterthought, with a few good, clear moments.  People who have seen Chris Nolan's 2017 movie Dunkirk will recognize the inspiration for the "sea" story of The Moonstone, and find the original story ( in my opinion) even more interesting and gripping- one of the few moments I could say that about Alone.
     

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Whispers Across the Atlantick

Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution by [Smith, David]

















Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution- David Smith
Osprey Publishing
Release Date: September 27, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
📚📚

Synopsis:  General William Howe was the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the early campaigns of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Howe evoked passionate reactions in the people he worked with – his men loved him, his second-in-command detested him, his enemies feared him, his political masters despaired of him. There was even a plot to murder him, in which British officers as well as Americans were implicated. 

Howe's story includes intrigue, romance and betrayal, played out on the battlefields of North America and concluding in a courtroom at the House of Commons, where Howe defended his decisions with his reputation and possibly his life on the line. The inquiry, complete with witness testimonies and savage debate between the bitterly divided factions of the British Parliament, gives Howe's story the flavour of a courtroom drama. Using extensive research and recent archival discoveries, this book tells the thrilling story of the man who always seemed to be on the verge of winning the American Revolutionary War for Britain, only to repeatedly fail to deliver the final blow.
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David Smith's Whispers Across the Atlantick what he calls an "unapologetically narrow view of the first two campaigns of the War of Independence, mostly considering events through Howe's eyes."  His preface opens by giving us the idea that within Whispers we will discover more about Howe, the general who commanded two successful years of campaigning in the American War of Independence.    He questions how it is possible that Howe is a nearly forgotten general among the British military annals, and posits that the lack of primary material from Howe and his family available to us today (the Howe family papers having been destroyed in a fire) are what have kept him in the shadows, seen only through the eyes of others. Smith then says that newly discovered draft of Howe's speech to the House of Commons in 1779 will help offer "telling insights into some of Howe's biggest decisions" and the Ph.D thesis he had been working on turned into a book attempting to make Howe a more complex historical figure for the reader.

A highly promising beginning for any history lover!  However, Smith largely fails to deliver on his promises.  Chapter by chapter we follow Howe through taking command of the British armies in America, through the capture of New York, to Philadelphia and White Plains.  Two years of campaigns are briefly touched on, the details of any given engagement largely left out.  Presumably the author thinks that if you're reading Whispers, you have already read extensively on these battles, their conditions, and the importance to both sides.  Each chapter begins with a quote from Howe's House of Commons speech and then an imagining of what his audience thought or might have reacted.  Readers like me, who picked up Whispers knowing virtually nothing about Howe except his name, may spend as much time wondering why he's going to be presenting to the House in 1779 as we do wondering what he's doing in 1777.  The answer comes at the very end of the book: Howe's resignation has been accepted and he has returned to England, but is unhappy with how things have been left.  It is hard for a modern reader to understand, based on Smith's explanation, exactly what Howe was so upset about that he pushed to have a hearing in the House, or what that hearing was supposed to resolve.  You get the feeling that Howe and his contemporaries may not have known either. 

There are some brief, interesting comparisons between the speech Howe originally wrote and the one he actually gave, although despite Smith's tantalizing promises nothing really comes from it.  Howe does not become a fully formed person for the reader, there are no striking insights into his character. The conclusion Smith comes to seems, to me at least, to be a confirmation of what Smith expected to find and what others had already deduced: Howe is not recognized as a British military genius because he wasn't one.  He knew how to play the game and say the right words to the right people to get the promotion, but in fact had no idea what he was doing when he took command.  The only real question seems to be: why did Howe want a job he was so supremely unqualified for, and why did he feel insulted when it became obvious to everyone else that he didn't know what he was doing?

A book with an interesting premise, Whispers Across the Atlantick fails to deliver on any front. While Whispers may provide minute new details to readers already intimately familiar with the battles and the players, it is largely a dry and uninteresting read that delivers nothing special to the casual American Revolution/military history reader.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Woman Who Couldn't Scream

The Woman Who Couldn't Scream: A Novel (The Virtue Falls Series Book 4) by [Dodd, Christina]

















The Woman Who Couldn't Scream (Virtue Falls #4)- Christina Dodd
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Taking (out of 5):
📚📚📚📚

Synopsis: Merida Falcon is a world-class beauty, a trophy wife who seems to have it all...except she has no voice. For nine bitter years, she lived to serve her wealthy elderly husband. On his death, Merida vanishes...and reappears in Virtue Falls with a new name, a new look, and a plot to take revenge on the man who loved her, betrayed her and walked away, leaving her silent, abused and bound to an old man's obsession.

But Merida faces challenges. Her school friend Kateri Kwinault is the newly elected sheriff of Virtue Falls. A chance meeting with her former lover intrigues him and brings him on the hunt for her, and meeting him face to face shakes her convictions. Will she have time to discover the truth about the events that occurred nine years ago? For someone in Virtue Falls is stalking women and slashing them...to death.

Danger closes in. Merida's fears build. There's no one to turn to...no one she dares to trust. And she has to wonder--who is the killer stalking? Is he trying to silence forever THE WOMAN WHO COULDN'T SCREAM?

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Christina Dodd ends her Virtue Falls series with a bang in The Woman Who Couldn't Scream.  It's the story Kateri Kwinault fans have been waiting for since Virtue Falls first came out, combined with the suspenseful story of Merida Falcon.  Merida and Kateri were friends years ago, before life pulled them in separate ways.  Kateri shunned her rich father's family for Virtue Falls, her drunken mother, and life on the rez. She's just been elected the first woman (and first Native American) sheriff in Virtue Falls and its an uphill battle all the way.  Fortunately she's got a loyal cocker spaniel named Lacey and a love interest/complication named Stag to keep her grounded.   Merida fell in love, nearly died, lost her voice, married an abusive older man, and then disappeared after his death.  She's in Virtue Falls with a new name and a plan for revenge.  Meeting Kateri after so many years, she begins to wonder if revenge will make her feel better after all.  Reconnecting with an old lover (and a man who may have tried to kill her) means her emotions start getting tangled in her plans.  Now there are at least two killers running around Virtue Falls.  It's Kateri's job to figure out who they are and stop them, it's Merida's job to stay alive long enough to separate the murderers from the friends!

Like the last Virtue Falls book (one of my all time personal favorites) Because I'm Watching, The Woman Who Couldn't Scream is a high-octane, fast-paced psychological thriller.  We meet Merida in small pieces, through the eyes of others, before she moves to Virtue Falls. Once there we see things through her eyes, but even Merida doesn't know all the pieces of her past- which means we get to discover along with her the twists and turns of the tragic 'accident' that took her voice and changed the course of her life forever.  Dodd does a masterful job giving us hints to the truth while keeping the big surprises for the very end.  It was also great to have so much of the story focus on Kateri.  If you'e read the rest of the series it's guaranteed you've been waiting to see how she does as sheriff, how she's going to deal with the tragedy that changed her own life, and what the deal is with Stag.  Good guy, bad guy? Bit of both?  Both women struggle with internal conflicts as well as external preconceptions and prejudices to make (and keep) a life they are happy with and entitled to- you're cheering them on from page one. 

For being a small town Virtue Falls has more than its fair share of killers.  Kateri is trying to catch a father/son set of killers who shot up a cafe (injuring her and putting her good friend and fan favorite Rainbow into a coma) and now seem to be determined to pay back anyone who ever annoyed them.  Then more bodies start turning up, badly mutilated.  Serial killer or local crazy?  One or multiple killers?  You'd think the solution to this wouldn't work or be convincing, but Dodd pulls off another brilliant blending of characters and motives, ending in a chilling battle for survival.  There's so much to say about how great Merida and Kateri are portrayed, that there's no doing them justice except to say: these are two strong women who, in the end, aren't afraid to save themselves.

While you don't have to have read any of the other books in this series to thoroughly enjoy The Woman Who Couldn't Scream, many of the characters have appeared in the other books and you'll enjoy following their lives (plus the other books are also awesome) so I recommend if you don't read them first, you'll enjoy going back and reading them after finishing Woman.  

A great, fast-paced book that will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way.  Warning- this may be a book you can't put down once you've started it!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review