"JAVA SEA 1942" offers a concise, comprehensive account of the combat actions at sea in and around the Netherlands East Indies from late February to early March 1942 that resulted in a decisive Japanese victory against a combined ABDA (American, British, Dutch, and Australian) naval force, and secured Japan’s control of the Netherlands East Indies with its considerable oil reserves. The book also contains a wealth of photos, battle diagrams, and illustrations that add to the reader's understanding of what was the first major surface engagement of the Pacific War.
"MURDER AT EBBETS FIELD" is the third novel in the Mickey Rawlings series of mystery novels I've read in which Major League Baseball looms large. This time, the reader is transported to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in the first week of August 1914, where the Brooklyn Dodgers is playing against their crosstown rival, the New York Giants. Rawlings is now a utility ball player with the Giants, which are led by the irascible, hard-driving, profane and legendary manager John McGraw. The Giants are in the midst of a pennant race, leading the league. Should the Giants manage to maintain their lead through the next couple of months of the season, they would be going to the World Series, which is Rawlings' greatest ambition. That and maintaining a .250 batting average.
Little did he know that his life was about to change. A movie director from the Vitagraph Motion Picture Company (Elmer Garvin) is chatting with McGraw, who is none too pleased to be pestered by Mr. Garvin. Garvin explains that he's at the game to make a baseball movie and would like to have one of McGraw's players appear in it, saying to McGraw that "We'd like to use one of your players for a few shots --- give the picture some realism, you see ---". Rawlings, who is also an avid movie fan, is watching the film crew set up their equipment and also looking on at the exchange between McGraw and Garvin. McGraw makes it clear that he has no interest in what Garvin wants to do. So, Garvin gives way to a tall, elderly gentleman with a posh manner who goes over to McGraw, introducing himself. It turns out that McGraw and the gentleman (Arthur V. Carlisle) have had a previous acquaintance through a social club, the Lambs, to which they both belong. Carlisle is able to cajole McGraw to allow one of his players to appear in Garvin's movie.
So it is that Rawlings is used for a few shots, both at Ebbets Field and later in the movie studio in Brooklyn, where he makes the acquaintance of a number of people --- including Casey Stengel, a rival player with the Dodgers who would later achieve fame as one of the greatest baseball managers in history; Margie Turner a young actress with whom Rawlings establishes a growing rapport; and a beautiful film star Florence Hampton, who owned a share of the Dodgers and is later found dead under mysterious circumstances. Indeed, it is Hampton's death which serves as the touch off point for Rawlings as he becomes involved in trying to solve a series of murders while trying to safeguard his own life, which ends up being caught in the cross hairs of Fate.
"MURDER AT EBBETS FIELD" is a delightful mystery novel that'll keep the reader guessing as to who did what and why.
The title of this book aptly sums up Annie Ernaux's all-consuming love affair with a married man - a foreigner from Eastern Europe - during the late 1980s. The reader is given access to a largely dispassionate analysis of the effects of unalloyed sexual desire and the yearnings for intimacy that Ernaux experienced throughout the relationship she had with this man in Paris. That is what makes "SIMPLE PASSION" an instructive book for anyone wanting to understand the impacts of a love affair as experienced by the person caught up in the passion it triggers, sustains, and stimulates.
The time is the 1970s. The novel begins with the reminiscences at the Baseball of Fame (HOF) in Cooperstown (NY) of a man in his dotage, who, in his youth, had been a journeyman baseball player in the major leagues. The reason he was there was that he had received an invitation to attend an exhibition game between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, 2 teams he had played with earlier in the century. The man, as the last survivor of a generation of pioneer ball players, had been given the honor of throwing out the first ball at the game. His name: Mickey Rawlings.
The reader is then fully immersed in Mickey's salad days in April 1912, after he was hired by the Boston Red Sox as a utility player. Rawlings has just arrived in Boston too late to attend the Saturday game at Fenway Park (then a new stadium that stood out like a great cathedral). But he -- a lad barely out of his teens with a keen love and devotion to the sport -- is determined to report to the Red Sox. The sooner he's a full-fledged member of the team, the more secure he'll feel. (Rawlings' brief stint with the Boston Braves the previous year attested to the precarious position often held by journeyman ball players.) So, after meeting with a stadium attendant at the entrance to Fenway Park, Rawlings wanders into the heart of the stadium, in search of the manager's office. He walks into a tunnel and is halfway inside and ventures past an intersecting corridor when he hears a dull, echoing THUNK! from a recessed doorway. There Rawlings discovers to his horror a well-dressed man slumped on the ground whose face had been mutilated. He is sickened by what he sees and passes out. A short time later, he is found and brought before Robert Tyler, the Red Sox treasurer and a local cop who questions Rawlings about his discovery of the dead man.
This dramatic development -- Rawlings' discovery of a dead man -- takes the reader into the heart of the novel which follows Rawlings throughout the 1912 season as he endeavors to find out who murdered the man, whose death the Boston police seemed set on holding him accountable for! There are a lot of twists and turns in this novel that I can't begin to describe, because that would be giving away the heart of the story. But I can say for anyone who takes up "MURDER AT FENWAY PARK" to read that he/she will be treated to a roller-coaster ride full of thrills, chills, and surprises.
Russell Baker had a well-deserved reputation as a journalist, and this memoir reflects that. It reads as a vital, engaging, at turns funny and poignant story of Baker's life from his earliest years spent with his paternal grandmother and relations in a backwoods Virginia community in the late 1920s that remained rooted in the 19th century, to New Jersey, Baltimore (where Baker graduated from high school at 17), his naval service in World War II as an aviation cadet and pilot, his student life at Johns Hopkins University postwar, his subsequent career as a journalist, and marriage.
I soo loved reading this memoir with its rich, varied cast of characters from Baker's family, friends, and relatives. It was so good that I felt like I was a guest at Russell Baker's table as he regaled me with the story of his life. This is a memoir that should serve as a template for anyone interested in telling his/her life story.
This book is the first in a projected 2-volume series about Luftwaffe pilots during World War II as told both by surviving veteran pilots themselves, many of whom Christer Bergström had befriended through the years through his work as a researcher/aviation historian -- and from accounts left from a number of Luftwaffe pilots (e.g. the ace Hans Philipp, who was credited with 206 victories) who were either killed during the war or died later before Bergström could interview them.
"Luftwaffe Pilots in World War II: The Veterans' Stories (Volume 1)" contains a lot of worthwhile, insightful, and revelatory information about the Luftwaffe fighter arm and some of its most distinguished pilots that had, hitherto, been little known or largely unknown. (For example, the case of captured Luftwaffe pilots who defected to the Soviet side.) There are also several photographs not to be found in other books on this subject. That is what makes this book a valuable resource, especially now that there are few veterans left to tell the stories first-hand.
But I must hasten to add that what detracts from the quality of this book is how poorly written it is in several instances. I don't know if this volume was translated from Swedish. If that is the case, the book was very poorly translated into English. I could bear with a handful of poorly written passages in English. But to have to deal with glaring grammatical errors across the chapters, along with sentence fragments and crudely constructed sentences --- that was too much. For that reason, I am giving "Luftwaffe Pilots of World War II: The Veterans' Stories (Volume 1), THREE (instead of 5) STARS.
Here is a truly first-rate, well-researched book that provides a personal perspective --- both RAF and Luftwaffe --- of the effects of the Battle of Britain. Accounts from both downed (and subsequently captured) German airmen and their RAF opponents give the reader a palpable sense of the hazards of air combat during the first decisive air battle of the Second World War.
For anyone wishing to gain a concise and comprehensive understanding of the history of Spain's Blue Division -- made up of volunteer recruits and soldiers from the Spanish Army, some of whom were veterans of the Spanish Civil War -- its record as a combat unit in the Wehrmacht in the northern sector of the Eastern Front between August 1941 and the end of 1943 when it was disbanded and returned to Spain --- THIS IS THE IDEAL BOOK.
"Blue Division Soldier 1941-45: Spanish Volunteer on the Eastern Front" is also rich with photos and illustrations of unit insignias, medals, and decorations that were earned by the Blue Division, which continues to have a certain mystique in Spain - as well as generating interest among the Spanish people.
"CONVOY NORTH" chronicles the experiences of the SS Hardraw Falls, which is the flagship of one of the earliest Arctic convoys sent by Britain in late 1941 to the Soviet Union to supply it with the vital materiel and foodstuffs it needed to keep the latter country afloat in its life and death struggle against Nazi Germany.
The overall commander of the convoy aboard the SS Hardraw Falls, is Commodore Jason Kemp of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). In addition to the main job he has been entrusted with, Kemp is also charged with carrying out a top secret operation once the convoy has reached the waters of the North Cape. It's an operation fraught with risk that puts the SS Hardraw Falls at the mercy of German naval units and the Luftwaffe.
"CONVOY NORTH" shows Philip McCutchan's skill at conveying to the reader the hazards and daily struggles faced by the officers and seamen who bravely risked exposure on the seas above the Arctic Circle --- in addition to attacks from U-boats, German warships, and the Luftwaffe --- in the convoys to Archangel and Murmansk. I felt a distinct chill in reading this novel.
"HUNTING A DETROIT TIGER: A Mickey Rawlings Baseball Mystery" combines both the beauty and drama of Major League Baseball with the tensions, perils, and excitement of a well-crafted and engaging mystery novel. Besides, as a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, I took one look at this novel and knew I had to have it.
The book begins in Detroit during the spring of 1920. Mickey Rawlings, a journeyman baseball player and World War I veteran, has been hired by the Tigers. He's anxious to prove his worth to them by earning a place in the lineup. What he doesn't count on is being implicated at a meeting he was asked to attend of the local chapter of the International Workers of the World (IWW) in the murder of a former ballplayer (Emmett Siever) who was trying to start up a players' union. The story is that Rawlings had a meeting with Siever, an altercation ensued between the 2 men, and consequently, Sievers was shot to death by Rawlings in an act of self-defense. Thus, Sievers' death is seen by the Detroit police as an open-and-shut case.
But Rawlings is not happy with being regarded as an accused killer He wants to clear his name and sets about trying to do that. All the while, Rawlings' life is put in jeopardy because local IWW members are aggrieved over Sievers' murder and a number of them are determined to get back at him. Furthermore, at the same time, as the season gets underway and Rawlings is nursing an injured right wrist by batting left after getting cleared by the team doctor to play, the baseball owners are putting pressure of him to speak out against a players' union for major league ballplayers. This leads to Rawlings (who'd rather remain apart from politics and the union movement and solely concentrate on playing baseball) being caught being 2 very unsavory extremes.
Soos does an excellent job in bringing all these various elements together into a novel that I didn't want to put down. It was also fascinating to learn something about the anti-Bolshevik atmosphere that permeated U.S. society in the immediate post-World War I era -- and the strong-armed, illegal, and unconstitutional practices U.S. law enforcement agencies engaged in as a way of clamping down on both left wing organizations and the union movement as represented by the IWW (aka 'the Wobblies'). There's never a dull moment in this novel. Which is why I highly recommend it.
"AN INCIPIENT MUTINY: The Story of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Pilot Revolt" is a fascinating book detailing the establishment and development of aviation in the U.S. Army from 1907 (when it was a part of the Signal Corps) through May 1918, when it achieved independent status within the Army as the United States Army Air Service.
Reading this book proved to be a revelation in broadening my understanding of the evolution and development of U.S. Army aviation, which did not run smooth. Indeed, "An Incipient Mutiny" is "a shocking account of shortsightedness, mismanagement, criminal fraud, and cover-up that led to a pilot revolt against the military establishment."
What becomes clear to the reader is the sadly deficient airplanes (in terms of design flaws and poor construction) the Signal Corps purchased and expected its pilots to fly. Pilot fatalities in flying accidents by 1914 amounted to 25%, a death rate so horrendous that no life insurance company would issue an insurance policy to Army pilots. This need not have happened, because there were other airplanes in the market that were available to the U.S. Army that were better in quality and less expensive than the ones the Signal Corps were content to buy and use. Such negligence on the part of the Signal Corps leadership (and by extension, the Army itself) was obscene and inexcusable.
For anyone with an interest in learning something about the real history of the development of military aviation in the U.S., "An Incipient Mutiny" is a book that will engage and absorb your interest. It has a cast of characters and photographs that add depth and perspective to a compelling story that needs to be more widely known and understood.
The author, Johnnie Houlton (1922-1996), was a New Zealander who joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in June 1941. As he details in "SPITFIRE STRIKES: A New Zealand Fighter Pilot's Story", he received his initial flight training at home in New Zealand before being sent - with other RNZAF pilot trainees - on the ship Rangitiki in December 1941 (within days of the Pearl Harbor attack) to Britain via the Panama Canal and Halifax (Nova Scotia - CANADA).
Upon arrival in Britain in February 1942, Houlton continued with his training as a fighter pilot, learning to fly the Hawker Hurricane and earning his wings. He was then seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) and posted in June 1942 to 485 Squadron, a Spitfire squadron largely made up of New Zealanders. What I found interesting about this posting is that Houlton had never flown a Spitfire prior to joining 485 Squadron! (Houlton's from being shown around a Spitfire by one of the squadron's Sergeant Pilots marked his introduction to the fighter itself.) This deficiency was soon remedied by Houlton's flight commander, who sent Houlton off to fly his own Spitfire! In Houlton's words, flying "the Spitfire was a delight, and seemed to slip smoothly along."
For a month, Houlton flew the Spitfire extensively on practice flights, engaging in air gunnery practice, a few convoy flights over the English Channel, and at least one ground attack mission a short distance from the Belgian coast. 485 Squadron by this time (i.e., late July 1942) was being rested. Houlton was then made aware of the issuance of a general signal in the RAF, calling for volunteers to go out to Malta for combat duty there. Houlton shares with the reader his interest in the then ongoing siege of Malta (which had begun in June 1940) and put his name up for service on that beleaguered island. Indeed, Malta served as a linchpin in Britain's efforts to retain a presence in North Africa and the Mediterranean against the Axis Powers. Maintaining a foothold there was vital to Britain's remaining in the war.
Thus, Houlton arrived in Malta in August 1942 as part of Operation Pedestal, flying his Spitifre off the deck of the Royal Navy carrier HMS Furious, and flying it for several hundred miles across enemy-controlled waters. He landed on an island on the brink of starvation. The Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica all but controlled the skies over Malta. So, for those RAF and Commonwealth pilots assisting in Malta's defense, they were often outnumbered in the air .But despite that, they fought bravely and never shrank from their duty and responsibilities. For the next 3 months, Houlton flew on operations (which he details at some length, as well as sharing with the reader his impressions of his fellow pilots - several of whom became widely known because of their combat prowess - and the grim conditions on Malta experienced by combatants and civilians alike) until he became extremely ill and had to be evacuated back to Britain.
Houlton would return to serving in 485 Squadron with which he flew extensively in combat during 1943 and 1944. Indeed, on the day of the D-DAY landings on Normandy (June 6, 1944), he received credit for shooting down a German Junkers 88 twin-engined bomber over Omaha Beach.
On the whole, "SPITFIRE STRIKES" is one of the best air combat memoirs it has been my pleasure to read.
"The Farm at the Edge of the World" is the second Sarah Vaughan novel I've had the pleasure of reading. It is a generational story spanning a little more than 70 years - from the earliest days of the Second World War to the summer of 2015 - that faithfully evokes the essence and spirit of an era fast receding into history, as well as a tangible look and feel of contemporary Cornwall.
The novel begins with the evacuation of a brother and sister - Will, 13 and his younger sister, Alice, 9 - from London to Cornwall in Southwest England shortly after Britain had declared war on Germany in September 1939. Many families with young children in London, fearful of being bombed by the Luftwaffe, entered into a government plan which relocated children from the urban areas of the country judged likely to be subjected to bombing to the countryside. Children were considered to be in places of greater safety in the countryside. So it was that Will and Alice Cooke were put in the care of the Retallick family, who owned and lived on a granite farm (Skylark) near the Cornish cliffs.
As I said, this novel is a story that spans the generations. And thus, the reader is provided in alternating chapters, views of the life Will and Alice had with the Retallicks at Skylark through most of the war to Skylark some 7 decades later. In the latter period (i.e. the summer of 2014), Maggie - who had befriended Will and struck up what began as a close friendship with him -- is nearing her 90th birthday. Her granddaughter Lucy, a nurse by training, has left London, where she lived with her husband Matt, to return to Cornwall to help her family from losing Skylark. She had lived many years in London, but in light of her father's death, feels the need to reconnect with her family. The author skillfully brings to life the struggles and divisions within the family in light of Skylark's troubles. This is wonderfully contrasted with life there during the war, which brought Will and Maggie Retallick closer together as both neared adulthood-- before Fate cruelly separated them.
The more I read this novel, the more the story grew within my imagination. There is something about Cornwall that is both evocative and mesmerized, situated as it is hard by the Atlantic Ocean. (Ever since I read the Poldark novels over 10 years ago, I have become utterly enchanted with Cornwall. I hope someday to visit there.) Vaughan has a knack for creating characters with whom the reader can relate to because they become real people. I love the way she writes.
"THE FARM AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD" is a novel the reader will find him/herself reflecting upon long after he/she has read it, for it is very well told and has elements of love, loss, nostalgia, hope, and rediscovery.
Two weeks ago (November 8, 2019), I had the opportunity to hear the author, S.C. Gwynne, speak about this book at a local bookstore. While I have at best a layman's interest in the Civil War, I was impressed with Gwynne's presentation, so much so that I put in a request with my neighborhood library to check out a copy of the book.
"HYMNS OF THE REPUBLIC: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War" provides an apt and well-written summation of the final year of the Civil War and how it impacted upon the nation (North and South) militarily, politically, economically, and on a psychological level. Gwynne also brings vividly to life the many personalities (military, civilian, and political) who played key and significant roles in a year - 1864 - that began with the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant (the hero of Vicksburg) as Lieutenant General in charge of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, which initially gave the North much cause for optimism that the war could perhaps be won in a short time and thus, ensure Lincoln's re-election later in the year. But despite Grant's initial successes against the Army of Northern Virginia (commanded by Robert E. Lee), the war in the East ground into a virtual stalemate by the summer.
As a result of these setbacks on the battlefield in 1864 (as evidenced by the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor), Lincoln's re-election prospects dimmed considerably. He felt certain that he was likely to be defeated in November by the Democratic candidate (George McClellan, the erstwhile commander of the Army of the Potomac til Lincoln relieved him of command late in 1862 because of McClellan's failure to mount an effective campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia throughout that year), leading to a likely truce between North and South resulting ultimately in the establishment of the Confederacy as an independent nation. But then the fortunes of war would tilt in the North's favor by the early autumn of 1864.
Gwynne has written a history that reads like a novel comparable in some ways to Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair' with its dramatic sweep. Thanks to him, I learned so much more about why the Civil War continues to resonate in the nation's psyche. After all, it was a conflict that changed us from seeing ourselves as 'the United States are' to 'the United States IS.' That is, as one singular nation of Americans.
I have had a fascination with First World War aviation that goes back to 1977, when I received the Thomas R. Funderburk classic book 'The Fighters: The Men and Machines of the First Air War'. As time went on, in my readings I came across the name of a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) noted for his remarkable skills in aerobatics who was entrusted with going from airbase to airbase across Britain showing pilot trainees and novice pilots alike that the feared and redoubtable Sopwith F1 'Camel' fighter could be mastered and flown skillfully by putting it through a variety of hair-raising, extremely low-level stunts. This was done to instill confidence in pilots to fly in combat an aircraft that could be unforgiving if indifferently flown. The name of this pilot, it was pointed out, was Armstrong.
Somehow the name 'Armstrong' stuck through the years. So that when I saw this book --- ''CAMEL PILOT SUPREME: CAPTAIN D.V. ARMSTRONG DFC" --- advertised recently, I thought 'this must be the one.' So I bought it and learned a great deal about D'urban Victor Armstrong that was amazing. Armstrong was born in South Africa in 1897 and arrived in Britain in the latter part of 1915 to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was trained as a pilot at the time when the RFC did not have a comprehensive and standardized pilot training program. The RFC, in the wake of the Fokker Scourge, had a desperate need for pilots and felt it more important to train men who could put a plane in the air and through their frontline experiences, fully learn 'the trade' of being a combat pilot on the Western Front. Pilots in 1916 on average were considered competent if they could last at least 3 weeks at the Front.
Armstrong, upon completion of training, was assigned to a new squadron, No. 60, which was dispatched to France in May 1916 flying both the Morane Saulnier N 'Bullet' monoplane fighter and the Morane-Saulnier Type L 'Parasol' high-wing monoplane which carried out photographic reconnaissance, escort, and bombing missions. Both planes were extremely tricky to fly. Notwithstanding that, No. 60 Squadron would go on to use them to great effect during the Battle of the Somme. Armstrong became quite proficient in flying the 'Bullet' in combat, scoring a number of kills with it in aerial combat. With the end of the battle in November 1916, Armstrong was one of only 5 men in the squadron to have survived unscathed. He was sent back to Britain, where for the next year and a half, he was involved with ferrying new combat planes across the Channel for use with frontline units, as well as serving in a couple of Home Defense fighter units pioneering both daylight and night flying tactics to combat the German long-range bombers that began flying bombing missions against London and targets in Southeast England during the spring and summer of 1917.
It was also during 1917 that Armstrong first became acquainted with the Sopwith F1 Camel, which first flew with fighter units on the Western Front in June of that year. Armstrong learned all that he could about the plane's idiosyncrasies by testing the plane itself. By this time, he was gaining a reputation as one of the RFC's best pilots. As a result of his growing prowess with the Camel, Armstrong's superiors in the RFC entrusted him with showing that it could be flown safely and inspiring confidence in those pilots who would later fly the Camel in combat.
Armstrong would return to France in late June 1918 with one of the RAF's first night fighter squadrons (flying Sopwith Camels), who would go on to pioneer tactics that would later be used in the Second World War to even greater effects by RAF night fighters in that conflict.
The more I read this book, the more I was deeply impressed with D.V. Armstrong, his unselfish nature and willingness to teach pilots all that he knew about aerobatics, as well as night flying and fighting. For the author, this book was the result of a 30 year effort to acquire and synthesize all that D.V. Armstrong -- who sadly died all too young -- was to the generation of aviators who knew him and valued his contributions to flight.
The book also has lots of photos from Armstrong's own collection that will give the reader a real sense of what a truly remarkable and special pilot he was. I recommend "CAMEL PILOT SUPREME: CAPTAIN D.V. ARMSTRONG DFC" to anyone who loves reading uplifting and inspiring stories.
A few days ago, I first became aware of "THE COMPATRIOTS" from an interview I saw on TV with its authors, Russian journalists Andrei Soldatav and Irina Borogan. I became fascinated with the interview, which was focused on the history of Russian émigrés in Europe and the United States and the influence and control the motherland exerted on them from the Bolshevik Revolution to the rise of Putin's Russia in the present era (since 2000). Shortly thereafter, I put in an order for this book.
In reading this book, I received a thoroughgoing education about the evolution of the complicated relationships between, first, the Bolshevik/Soviet government and the émigré communities abroad. In the early days, influence and control from Moscow on these communities through espionage and assassination (e.g. the brutal murder in Mexico in August 1940 of Leon Trotsky, Stalin's rival, by a Soviet trained agent). Then in the later stages of the Soviet Union, from the Brezhnev era to Gorbachev's era of glasnost and perestroika, Moscow's way of dealing both with its dissidents and the émigré communities abroad involved forced external exile (for its dissidents regarded as too much of a nuisance to be allowed to remain in the USSR), as well as espionage - and when judged necessary and expedient: poisoning of opponents (as evidenced by the murder of Bulgarian dissident/journalist Georgi Markov in London in 1978.
The sections of the book that dealt with the post-Soviet era under both Yeltsin and Putin were highly illuminating as well as fascinating. I LEARNED SO MUCH. In that era, from the breakup of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991, thru the rest of the 1990s - which witnessed Russia's struggle to develop a capitalist, Western-like economy, the rise of the oligarchs, and a democracy all the while Russia itself was in flux --- to the rise of Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB agent, and his consolidation of control and power in Russia to the present day.
For anyone who wants to have a better understanding of today's Russia and its expatriate community's relationship to it, by all means read "THE COMPATRIOTS."