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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

SHE LANDED BY MOONLIGHT

She Landed by Moonlight: The Story of Secret Agent Pearl Witherington: the Real 'Charlotte Gray' - Carole Seymour-Jones

"SHE LANDED BY MOONLIGHT" is a fantastic story of a most remarkable woman, Pearl Witherington, an Englishwoman born in Paris of English parents, who carried a deep love and devotion for her adopted country France as great as her love for Britain.   

 

During the Second World War, Witherington managed to spirit herself, her mother, and two of her sisters out of France to Britain following France's capitulation to Nazi Germany in June 1940.   Three years later, Witherington joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), trained as an agent and was parachuted into German-occupied France in September 1943.    The book goes on to describe Witherington's achievements in the field over the following year against heavy odds.    Indeed, at one point, the Germans had learned of her identity after the leader of the spy network of which she was a part had been captured by the Gestapo in May 1944.    As a result, a ƒ1,000,000 bounty was put on Witherington's head.    Undeterred, Witherington took on a new code name ('Pauline') and led the SOE Wrestler network in operations against German forces in the Valencay–Issoudun–Châteauroux triangle of central France.     The 4,000 marquisards she organized, armed, and trained would play a significant role in tying down thousands of German soldiers after the Allies had landed in Normandy in June 1944.       

 

This is a story that seems too incredible to be true.  But it was all too real.    Witherington survived the war, married the man she had long loved (who had also fought with her as a member of the Resistance in 1944), and went on to live a long life.     

 

"SHE LANDED BY MOONLIGHT" also provides an interesting overview of SOE, how it came to be in July 1940, the opposition it faced from Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (i.e., MI-6), its organizational structure, and the contributions made by SOE's F Section (of which Pearl Witherington was a part) in France towards defeating Nazi Germany.    I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about a true 'Warrior Queen.'

AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES LARGER-THAN-LIFE TRUE STORIES

— feeling amazing
Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster - Stephen L. Carter

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing at a local bookstore the author Stephen L. Carter speak about his paternal grandmother Eunice Huston Carter (1899-1970). Sometime later, after the Q&A session, I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Carter as he autographed my copy of this book.

"INVISIBLE: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster" puts the reader into an era in U.S. history barely half a century behind us, when African Americans were restricted by law and what was accepted custom from realizing their full potential in what was an overtly racist America (Jim Crow segregation). Notwithstanding all that, what I found to be deeply inspirational from reading this book is learning about the life of this most remarkable woman - as well as the lives of her parents (who were both fully engaged social activists; Eunice's father with the YMCA (its 'colored' section) for whom he worked tirelessly both in the U.S. and abroad til his death in 1916 and her mother Addie was a graduate of Boston Latin School, and a college graduate who later served as a teacher and worked with a variety of organizations promoting racial and gender equality til her death in 1943) and younger brother, from whom she became estranged. 

This is a book that would be instructive (as well as inspirational) to any reader who wants to learn about the value of living -- in spite of the obstacles and challenges arrayed against someone because of his/her color and/or gender -- a purposeful, committed life wholly dedicated to advancing socio-economic justice, as well as racial and gender equality.

BETWIXT HEAVEN & HELL ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1918)

Over and Above - Captain John E. Gurdon,  DFC

"OVER AND ABOVE" is a matter-of-fact and at times gripping novel based on the author's wartime experiences with a 2-seat fighter squadron of the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force (RFC/RAF) on the Western Front during the spring and summer of 1918. Originally published in 1919, this is a novel that captures both the absurdity and tragedy of war on a uniquely personal level.

REFLECTING ON THE 1918 ARMISTICE 100 YEARS LATER

The Glorious Dead - Tim Atkinson

Before reading this novel, I had never given a thought as to what went into the establishment of the World War I Allied military cemeteries in Belgium and France in the immediate post-World War I era.

 

"THE GLORIOUS DEAD" is centered around a small group of British (and Empire) soldiers who are tasked from 1918 (several weeks after the Armistice) to 1921 with uncovering bodies of dead comrades in Flanders Fields and helping to set up the first British (and Empire) military cemeteries. The reader is given a real sense of what each character is like, their motivations, feelings, as well as how the civilians in the war-torn areas are struggling to re-establish their lives and livelihoods. There is love, despair, hope, as well as something surprising about one of the main characters that I'll leave to the reader of this review to discover for him/herself.

 

I'm glad I finished reading this novel today on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. As a grandson of a World War I U.S. Army veteran and mindful of what the World War I generation gave between 1914 and 1918 in terms of toil and sacrifice, I am thankful to Tim Atkinson for having written such a thought-provoking, well-written novel on an aspect of the war that is little recognized or appreciated by most people living today.

FATE PLAYS ITS HAND IN OUR LIVES

The Biology of Luck - Jacob M. Appel

This is one of the oddest novels that I've ever read. At 207 pages, it isn't taxing on the reader's time and, on the whole, is well-written. 

'THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK' is set in New York City around the end of the 20th century and into the first few years of the 21st century. It's either a story within a story or rather, a story superimposed upon another, which is perhaps closer to the truth because they are both centered on 2 of the novel's central characters.

 

Larry Bloom is a guy in his 30s who works as a NYC tour guide. He's nondescript and would be seen by most people as unattractive and unremarkable because he is, and he knows that. But there is a woman he has known as a friend for 2 years with whom he has fallen in love. For her, he has written a novel -- part of which is played out across several chapters carrying within their titles the words 'The Biology of Luck - Chapter -- by Larry Bloom' --- which revolves upon her and one which Bloom sent to a major publishing company, who had sent him a letter by way of reply - a letter he has yet to open; Bloom hopes it will be 'the Ace up his sleeve' in his bid to win her heart. The woman of Bloom's dreams is Starshine Hart, a 29 year old woman noted for her beauty and for moving to the beat of a different drummer. 

Bloom's hopes for lasting happiness or everlasting despair hinges on a date he has with Starshine at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. 

For any reader of this review with the slightest curiosity as to what 'THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK' is about, the following remarks from the book, I think, best sum up what it's about: "A day that began on the sleepy streets of Harlem will end in a dash to the finish. The soles of Larry's feet throb after hours of walking; his throat burns from wasted words; his clothes bear the scars of smoked eel and pickled herring. In less than twelve hours, he has saved the life of a pompous buffoon, failed to rescue a beautiful maiden, and abandoned a corpse to the mercies of the news media. An overbearing journalist has kidnapped his bouquet. ... It has been the most traumatic day Larry has ever experienced, a whirlwind of dreams extinguished and hopes renewed, but what makes this snippet of June so inconceivable is that the two greatest challenges are still to come. He may yet be an author. ... All depends on whether Starshine, glorious Starshine, will wait for him."

On the whole, 'THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK' is a decent novel. But not one to get overly excited about.

Ruth Bernhard: The Eternal Body: A Collection of Fifty Nudes - Ruth Bernhard

This is a photography book that attests to the work of one of the 20th century's finest photographers, Ruth Bernhard (1905-2006). There are 50 black & white photographic images, spanning from the 1930s to the 1970s, of the female nude that highlights the relationship of the feminine form to the universe. In Bernhard's own words: "By recognizing the model's presence as an eternal symbol of life and all existence. I experience my own identity ... as a woman I strongly identify with my model."

'QUEEN OF THE FLAT-TOPS' OFFERS UNIQUE YOU-ARE-THERE VIEW OF WAR

Queen of the Flat-Tops - Stanley Johnston

The U.S.S. Lexington (aka "the Lady Lex") was one of the earliest aircraft carriers. Originally designed as a battlecruiser, it entered service with the U.S. Navy in 1925 and helped to usher in a new type of naval warfare. 

Here in "QUEEN OF THE FLAT-TOPS", Stanley Johnston, a journalist who was assigned to the Lexington in the earliest days of World War II in the Pacific, shares with the reader his experiences aboard her (based in large part on what he observed, as well as on interviews he had with various members of the crew - officers, pilots, and enlisted men) from the time the Lady Lex left Pearl Harbor to its final days in May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This battle was in unique in that it was the first naval battle in history in which the opposing ships never fired on each other, whose outcome was wholly dependent on the weight and might of air power. 

Originally published in the latter half of 1942, "QUEEN OF THE FLAT-TOPS" offers to the reader a vicarious you-are-there perspective of life aboard an American aircraft carrier at a time when odds were heavily stacked against the U.S. Navy in the Pacific War.
 

THE ODYSSEY OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN VETERAN OF WORLD WAR II

Blood on German Snow: An African American Artilleryman in World War II and Beyond - Emiel W. Owens

Born in Texas in 1922, Emiel W. Owens went on to live an extraordinary life as an educator and economic/financial consultant. He shares with the reader his life experiences from growing up under Jim Crow segregation in Texas, through his service in the U.S. Army during World War II with the 777th Field Artillery Battalion (which was engaged in almost constant combat in Europe between October 1944 and V-E Day in May 1945), and his subsequent reassignment to a quartermaster unit that was shipped to the Philippines shortly before the end of the Pacific War.

Owens was honorably discharged from the Army shortly after returning to the U.S. in early 1946. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree at Prairie View A&M University and graduate degrees (a Masters and doctorate) in economics from Ohio State University. He would go on to teach and serve in a variety of educational and consultative endeavors both in the U.S. and abroad.

I very much enjoyed reading this memoir. It is well-written and a rare work, because there are very few memoirs from African American veterans of World War II. That in itself makes "BLOOD ON GERMAN SNOW" a book to treasure.

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.