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KOMET

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Gabriela, Cravo e Canela
Jorge Amado
Progress: 157/358 pages
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (The Authorized Doubleday/Doran Edition)
T.E. Lawrence
Progress: 189/672 pages
The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve
G. Edward Griffin
Progress: 41/608 pages
Peter the Great
Robert K. Massie
Progress: 472/934 pages
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
Bradley K. Martin
A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge
Charles B. MacDonald
Progress: 191/712 pages
The German Army 1933-1945
Matthew Cooper
Progress: 198/598 pages
Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment
John F Williams
Progress: 22/238 pages
BRIONNE - Louis L'Amour

Here's a tight, well-written story of a man (Major James Brionne, formerly of the U.S. Army) whose home in Virginia was torched and his wife killed by a gang set on destroying him because of his previous work which led to the arrest, trial, conviction, and hanging of the murderer Dave Allard.

The time is the early 1870s. Brionne with his son Mat (who had barely managed to escape the clutches of the Allard Gang in Virginia) make their way out west to Utah Territory to eke out a new life there in the desert landscape. There they are tracked down by the Allards and the outcome is not without its thrills and chills.

BRIONNE - Louis L'Amour

A very compelling and eloquent account by Iris Origo which conveys both the tempo and temper of life that existed in Italy as she went from being a sometimes uneasy German ally and neutral to a full-fledged co-belligerent with Germany after June 10, 1940. The diary begins on March 27, 1939 and ends on July 23, 1940.

A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary 1939–1940  - Iris Origo

A very compelling and eloquent account by Iris Origo which conveys both the tempo and temper of life that existed in Italy as she went from being a sometimes uneasy German ally and neutral to a full-fledged co-belligerent with Germany after June 10, 1940. The diary begins on March 27, 1939 and ends on July 23, 1940.

A WAR MEMOIR ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1943

The Sky Is My Witness - Thomas         Moore

"THE SKY IS MY WITNESS" is a slim book (135 pages) that was written during the Second World War by the author, who had been trained to be a U.S. Marine dive bomber pilot in the months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Indeed, 2 days following the attack, Lieutenant Moore was awarded his wings.  

 

Within the next 6 months, Moore was assigned to a dive bomber unit that was moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, and on to Midway Island, where it played a part in the Battle of Midway.   He received his baptism of fire while attacking one of the Japanese carriers, barely surviving an onslaught from some of Japan's veteran naval fighter pilots flying the Mitsubishi Zero.    

 

By August 1942, Moore's unit landed on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, where it was tasked with attacking enemy warships and transports, often at night.     The greatest value of "THE SKY IS MY WITNESS" is that it reflects the thoughts and feelings of a wounded veteran at a time when the Second World War was far from over.

FRONTLINE LIVES OF AVIATORS ON CANVAS, 1914-1918

Sky Fighters of France: Aerial Warfare, 1914-1918 - Henry Farré
  The greatest value that comes from "SKY FIGHTERS OF FRANCE" is that it is Henry Farré's account of the 4 years he spent (on attachment with the French Aviation Militaire) with a variety of aviation units (bombardment, reconnaissance/artillery spotting, and 'chasse' or fighter squadrons) on the Western Front --- and with a seaplane unit in the coastal city of Dunkerque.

Farré's remit, as an accomplished artist, was to capture on canvas various aspects of the lives of pilots in frontline settings. And judging from the reproductions of his paintings scattered throughout the book, the reader gets a palpable feel of what the thrills and perils of combat flying were like 100 years ago. For instance, there are paintings of nighttime bombing raids far behind enemy lines (Farré flew several missions as an observer with a night bomber squadron), a couple of crews from damaged seaplanes (referred to in the book as 'hydroplanes') barely above the waves being rescued by a French destroyer, and individual fighter planes engaged in 'mano-a-mano' aerial combat. There are also individual portraits that Farré drew of some of the aviators he met and with whom he established friendships. For example, one of the war's most famous and skilled aviators, Georges Guynemer, who, before his death on September 11, 1917, was credited with shooting down 53 German planes.

For me, as a First World War aviation enthusiast, "SKY FIGHTERS OF FRANCE" is a prized book that was easy to read. It enriched my understanding of what life at the Front was like for those aviators who took part in history's first air war. Merci, Monsieur Henry Farré.

 

England's Lane - Emma Woolf

As advertised, "ENGLAND'S LANE" is a modern love story, with London by and large figuring prominently as the backdrop. The reader is witness to an affair and its effects on all persons involved. The novel also showcases the highs and lows of love, loss, betrayal, the bonds of family and friendship --- as well as redemption and love rediscovered. I'm glad I took the journey.

ONE MAN'S STRUGGLE AGAINST A NATION SET ON OPPRESSING & DEBASING HIM

Black Boy - Richard Wright, Edward P. Jones

TODAY (September 26th, 2018) I finished re-reading "BLACK BOY." I first read it when I was in high school many, many years ago. At the time I read it, the book left a big impression on me. Yet, as time went on, I gave Richard Wright's autobiography little more than a second thought. So, when one of the Goodreads clubs to which I belonged chose "BLACK BOY" as the Book of the Month, I was eager to see what I might find or discover from re-reading it. From the moment I plunged into the first paragraph, I felt like I was reading it for the first time, with fresh eyes.

Wright brought to me, as a reader, his fears, hopes, and dreams that he had while growing up in the South - be it in Mississippi (where he was born), Arkansas, and Tennessee. He lived with hunger, fears of running afoul of white Southerners (which required that he'd learn fast how to act, think, and be among them -- otherwise, he could end up dead, as had happened with one of his uncles who had a thriving business that whites resented him for having), and his own desire to lead a freer, independent existence within the larger society. That is, the U.S. as he knew it to be during the 1910s and 1920s.

After some effort and a lot of determination, Wright eventually was able to save enough money to go live in the North, where one of his aunts lived. Upon arriving there, in his own words: "Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundations were sinking slowly into the dank prairie. Flashes of steam showed intermittently on the wide horizon, ... The din of the city entered my consciousness, entered to remain for years to come. The year was 1927." 

Wright would go on to work a variety of odd jobs (including work with the post office) and join the Communist Party in the early 1930s, which gave him invaluable lessons in human psychology that he would later carry over into his writing. 

This is a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone seeking to understand the effects of man's inhumanity to man, as well as the redemptive power of the spirit that refuses to submit to degradation and oppression imposed upon it, seeking a newer world and better life.

REFLECTIONS OF LIFE IN LONDON'S EAST END IN DECADES PAST

East End Tales (Quick Reads) - Gilda O'Neill

"EAST END TALES" gives the reader through the veil of Gilda O'Neill's own personal experiences and the experiences of East Enders she interviewed, what life was really like in that area of London from the early 1900s, the interwar era (the years between 1919 and 1939), the war years, and during the 1950s (when O'Neill lived there as a child). 

Much of what I read in this book reminded me of the stories I had read several years ago of the British poor and working class --- in their own words --- of the Edwardian Era (1901-1910). In that era, though a basic education was free, people lived hand-to-mouth in shabby housing with outdoor toilets and washtubs for weekly bathing and for tending to laundry. They also worked long hours in labor-intensive jobs and could ill-afford medical care. The highest aspiration any woman could have in that time would be to secure secretarial work or a job as a schoolteacher, nurse, or journalist. 

The commonality between the life that I had read about in Britain during the Edwardian Era and the life of the East End of London (circa 1900 to the 1950s) as described in "EAST END TALES" was that East Enders tended, in general, to stick together and shared what little they had with each other. Any reader of this review who has watched the TV series "Call the Midwife" would understand that.
 

Polikarpov Fighters in Action, Pt.1 - Aircraft No. 157 - Hans-Heiri Stapfer

This book provides a fairly comprehensive history of the first generation of Polikarpov fighter planes -- all biplanes --- produced by the Soviet Union during the 1930s, which came into being in response to Moscow's decision to modernize the Soviet air force and aviation industry in the Soviet Union. Many of these fighters (e.g. the I-15 and the I-152) saw combat in the Spanish Civil War, in the Battles of Khalkhin Gol (fought between the Soviet Union and Japan from May to September 1939), the Sino-Japanese War (with the Chinese Air Force), and during the early stages of World War II. 

The Polikarpov fighters, when they first arrived on the scene, were among the most advanced aircraft in the world. But by the time Europe was on the eve of war in 1939, these Soviet fighters had become obsolete, due to the widespread adoption of the monoplane fighter by a majority of the world's modern air forces. The day of the biplane was now passé. Nevertheless, Stalin insisted that a more advanced biplane fighter be developed. Thus was born the Polikarpov I-153, which had a retractable landing gear, and boasted a higher speed, as well as heavier armament, than its predecessors. Though a robust fighter, the I-153 proved to be unsuitable for fighter-vs-fighter combat during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and was largely relegated to the ground attack role until it was phased out of service in 1943. 

This is a fantastic book, with many photos and a page containing illustrations of the various Polikapov fighters (1st generation) in their various uses from the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, to World War II. 

AGAINST ALL ODDS - FROM THE RUSSIAN FRONT TO FREEDOM IN IRELAND

Against the Odds: Survival on the Russian Front 1944-1945 - John Stieber

"AGAINST THE ODDS" is a story that seems too incredible to have been real. But as the saying goes: Truth is often stranger than fiction. And so, it was with John Stieber, who, along with his older sister Erika, had been born in Czechoslovakia, the son of an engineer who had served bravely in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. Stieber's father, owing to his engineering expertise, was given an opportunity to work in England during the mid-1920s. As a result, Stieber's family lived in England for several years. Stieber himself states that English came to be his first language, though both his parents were native German speakers. (Both Stieber and his sister would acquire fluency in both languages, which later proved advantageous to them during the early postwar years.)

Stieber's father completed his contract and returned to Czechoslovakia in the early 1930s. Stieber struggled to learn Czech in school and admits that he didn't enjoy his time in school there very much. His time in Czechoslovakia proved to be brief, because his father's employer had another job assignment for him to undertake, this one in Ireland. Stieber came to love Ireland and would live there for about 6 years. Sometime in 1939, his parents decided to enroll both Stieber and his sister into secondary school in Germany. With war being declared in September, Stieber and his sister would be stuck in Germany for the duration. (Their parents remained in Ireland, which they later made their home.) 

After Stieber completed his studies, he was called up to serve in an anti-aircraft battery in 1943. He also served in the National Labor Service (Arbeitsdienst). Early in the following year, age 18, Stieber entered military service with the Fallschirm-Panzerkorps Hermann Göring and is sent to the Russian Front, where over the next year, he has many harrowing experiences and escapes death on several occasions. Indeed, Stieber would emerge from the war as one of the few men in his unit to survive and avoid being placed in a POW camp. 

I very much enjoyed reading this memoir, which I highly recommend to anyone who loves human interest stories.

THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG

The Never-Ending Wrong - Katherine Anne Porter

"THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG" is essentially Katherine Anne Porter's account of the experiences she had during the 1920s working with a group protesting the conviction of the shoemaker Nicola Sacco and the fishmonger Bartolomeo Vanzetti (both by political conviction, anarchists) on the charge of murder by a Massachusetts court. Porter focuses on what she observed and experienced during the final hours leading to the execution of both Sacco and Vanzetti in August 1927. In its time, the Sacco-Vanzetti case was a cause célèbre that garnered considerable support and attention - both nationally and internationally - among notable people like Porter who believed that both men had been wrongly convicted. This book, originally published in 1977 - 3 years before Porter's death at age 90 -- is also a retrospective for the author on the previous 5 decades.

"THE NEVER-ENDING WRONG" at 63 pages is a short book. But one rich in insights such as the following observation made by the author: "... the grim little person named Rosa Baron ... who was head of my particular group during the Sacco-Vanzetti demonstrations in Boston snapped at me when I expressed the wish that we might save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti: ' Alive --- what for? They are no earthly good to us alive.' These painful incidents illustrate at least four common perils in the legal handling that anyone faces when accused of a capital crime of which he is not guilty, especially if he has a dubious place in society, an unpopular nationality, erroneous political beliefs, the wrong religion socially, poverty, low social standing --- ... Both... Sacco and Vanzetti, suffered nearly all of these disadvantages."

FROM CLIPPED WINGS TO SOARING WITH THE EAGLES

Best Foot Forward - Colin Hodgkinson

"BEST FOOT FORWARD" is Colin Hodgkinson's story of the long struggle he waged after surviving an air crash while in training with the Fleet Air Arm in May 1939 -- and sustaining life-altering injuries that would have humbled a lesser person --- to resume as normal a life as possible. As part of this process, Hodgkinson --- with the great Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter ace and Wing Leader Douglas Bader (who, despite having similar life-altering injuries, was able to resume flying with the RAF upon the outbreak of war in September 1939) as a prime example and inspiration --- was given the opportunity to resume flight training with the Fleet Air Arm. 

Subsequently, Hodgkinson was able to wrangle a transfer to the RAF, where he successfully completed a rigorous flight training program, and was assigned to a frontline fighter squadron late in 1942. 

Hodgkinson would fly the redoubtable Supermarine Spitfire in combat over Europe through most of 1943, manage to shoot down 2 enemy fighters in aerial combat, and survive a stint as a prisoner of war before being repatriated to the UK in late 1944. This book is essentially a recapitulation of Hodgkinson's life from a childhood in the English countryside to the early postwar years. It has both a forthrightness and eloquence which makes for rewarding reading.

VIII Fighter Command at War 'Long Reach' - Michael O'Leary

This book is a first-rate compilation of the experiences of 24 United States Army Air Force (USAAF) fighter pilots who had extensive combat experience in Europe with the 8th Air Force during the Second World War. This compilation was taken from a document commissioned by VIII Fighter Command in the Spring of 1944 that was to be used as a teaching manual for potential fighter pilots undergoing training in the USA. There are also plenty of interesting photos in the book showing the 24 pilots (many of them top scoring aces), the planes they flew, and the combat units with which they served.

A TRIBUTE TO THOSE WOMEN PILOTS WHO PERSISTED - AND MADE AVIATION HISTORY

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History - Keith  O'Brien

This book sheds light on the unsung contributions made by women pilots to aviation between 1927 and 1937, a time often referred to as the Golden Age of Aviation. Its focus is on 5 women aviators of the 1920s and 1930s (i.e., Louise Thaden, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Nichols, whose pilot license was signed by aviation pioneer Orville Wright himself) and their struggles to gain acceptance and respect in the field of aviation. Aviation in its early days was considered more of a "man's sport" and women were discouraged from being a part of it. But these women -- many of whom proved to be extraordinary fliers in their own right --- were made of sterner stuff. These 5 women persisted - and some of them paid the ultimate price for that. 

The only quibble I have with this book is the author's frequent use of the word 'airship' in place of 'airplane'. By common understanding in the aviation industry, 'airship' refers to a 'dirigible', a lighter-than air machine. For that reason, I've taken a star away from what otherwise would have been a 5-star rating.

A STAR THAT BLAZED BRIGHT THEN FELL FROM SIGHT

Helmut Wick: An Illustrated Biography of the Luftwaffe Ace and Commander of Jagdgeschwader 2 during the Battle of Britain - Herbert Ringlstetter

This is one of the best illustrated biographies of a renowned fighter pilot that I've yet read. This book is replete with a wealth of fascinating photos that spans Helmut Wick's life, from his birth in 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, thru his flight training days, and on to Wick's rise as the Luftwaffe's premiere fighter ace culminating in his death in aerial combat near the Isle of Wight on November 28, 1940. There are also 3 appendices at the back of the book containing a list of Helmut Wick's confirmed (and unconfirmed) aerial victories, a "brief description of the aircraft types shot down by Wick", and illustrations of aircraft Wick flew as well as those of the enemy he faced in combat in 1939 and 1940.

LE SCANDALE BETTENCOURT

— feeling amazing
The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris - Tom Sancton

I was attracted to "THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris" by its cover. It caught my eye in a local independent bookstore several weeks ago. I weighed the book carefully in my hands and glanced through its pages before deciding to buy it. What an unexpected merry ride this book has given me! 

"THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR" at its heart is a story about a scandal that arose over the past decade from one of France's wealthiest families (who normally kept a very low profile). It was a scandal that began as a family drama between mother (Liliane Bettencourt, daughter of Eugène Schueller [1881-1957], a pharmacist by profession who founded L'Oréal, "the world's leading company in cosmetics and beauty" products -- who herself was one of the world's wealthiest women) and daughter (Françoise Bettencourt Meyers) which, once leaked to the press in France, became a major scandal touching upon politics and L'Oréal's shadowy history, as well as the family's murky secrets arising out of the Second World War. This book had many layers that captivated my interest and read at times like a spellbinding thriller. 

Before reading "THE BETTENCOURT AFFAIR", I knew very, very little about L'Oréal. For me, it was a simply a name of some big cosmetics company that dealt with beauty and fashion whose products I had seen advertised on TV over the years. Thank you, Tom Sancton, for this book. It's truly impressive and reflects well the research that went into its creation and development. The author taught me a lot and deepened my already wide-ranging fascination with French history and culture. This book is a keeper.