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Charley's War: Great Mutiny
Charley's War: Great Mutiny
by Pat Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The latest edition of the best war comic ever!, 29 May 2011
"Charley's War" was a comic strip that featured prominently in the British comic "Battle" (later "Battle Action" and then "Battle Action Force") and evolved into that comic's longest running strip, alongside "Johnny Red". Charley's War is the tale of Charley Bourne, who in 1916, enlists in the British Army at the age of 16, and before long is shipped off to the horrors of the trenches. Through his eyes (and occasionally his family's) the reader experiences the horrors of the war, in the trenches and on the home front. Titan Books began publishing the series of strips in hardback in 2005, releasing a new volume every year around October/November.

This volume, number 7 in the series and covering the period September to December 1917, is subtitled "The Great Mutiny" and is concerned initially with the disorder that arose during the Aisne campaign of 1917. It is generally well known that the French army mutinied following the disasterous opening day of the battle. It is a lesser known fact that elements of the British army, disillusioned with the brutality and remoteness of their senior commanders also refused to return to soldiering following a spell in the Estaples training camp, and it is in the midst of this camp that our hero finds himself. Initially joining the mutineers, he then is in the position of having to put down the insurgency. After the mutiny is over, Charley returns to the frontlines with his unit, volunteering for a spell as a stretcher bearer (the tone at this stage is quite solemn for a kid's comic, and at one stage the narrative jumps to 1982). This volume closes with Charley becoming seconded as a spotter for a sniper operating in no-man's land, opposite the stretch of trenches in which Corporal Adolf Hitler serving as a runner...

Steve White provides an opening essay on the French army mutiny, which helps provides useful context for the initial portion of the book. As usual, Pat Mills provides comments on the various episodes that feature in the book. His commentary is interesting, as it often reveals insights into storytelling and comic book production that a casual reader doesn't appreciate. As is expected, the quality of the reproduction varies, and the pages that were originally produced in colour are reproduced as grey scale pages, which are not easy on the eye.

Charley's War is a masterpiece series from Brit writer Pat Mills and artist Joe Colquhoun. It is their work that makes "Charley's War" so memorable. They breathe life into their characters; Sarge, Weeper, and Blue (who makes his return to the strip in this volume) and all the other characters that populate Charley's world. The artwork is superb; Joe Colquhuon spared no effort in his drawings, and the level of detail is incredible - each panel needs to carefully scrutinised before proceeding to the next panel to fully appreciate the detail. Through his clever writing, Pat Mills was able to get his readership of the time (usually young males) to look past their preconceptions of war as a glorious and noble pursuit and appreciate its horrors but without overwhelming them. I cannot recommend this book, and indeed this series, highly enough.


Odd Man Out : The Story of the Singapore Traitor
Odd Man Out : The Story of the Singapore Traitor
by Peter Elphick
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Light on detail, light on sources, 29 May 2011
Purportedly the story of Patrick Heenan, disaffected Indian Army officer turned Japanese story, "Odd Man Out: The Story of the Singapore Traitor" is surprisingly light on the detail of the central character of the book, and therein is a major flaw in the book.

While there is reasonable and generally reliable sources regarding Heenan's scholastic career in England (but not much on his birth in New Zealand and early upbringing in Burma), sources supporting the assertions of the authors' regarding the spying exploits of Heenan are unfortunately slim, and perhaps understandably so given the chaos that was Singapore in early 1942. However, some sources apparently didn't want to be identified, and the authors also state the "Heenan affair" was hushed up by many in the know. This is reputedly justified on account of the "dishonour" his exposure would mean to Heenan's Indian Army regiment. I personally found this a little hard to fathom, particularly given the period of time that has elapsed since the fall of Singapore and the independence of India. In the end, this leaves very little substantive facts about the key events that make Heenan so infamous, and is the very reason for this book.

Given the lack of hard facts about their man Heenan, in order to fill out their book, authors Elphick and Smith have expounded on life in pre-war Malaya, and the depth of penetration of Japanese intelligence. This, for me at least, is the more interesting part of the narrative - which is why I rated this book two stars. Unsurprisingly, this portion is much better sourced than much of the rest of the book. The authors also go into the Malaya campaign itself, although not intensively. I did notice that there seemed to be a needless reference to the conduct of the Australians in Singapore, perhaps not surprising given the tone of Elphick's later book "Singapore: The Pregnable Fortress", which paid great attention to the conduct of Australian troops in Singapore.

At times, the book descends into what appears to be mere rumour rather than substantive fact. One sensationalist account is given of a pair of British ground crew working on an airfield being interrupted by a strange Colonel and Sergeant-Major, who apparently were up to no good. A girlfriend of Heenan's is suitably fitted out as a kind of "Mata Hari". Ultimately, this means it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from "Odd Man Out". I am slightly amazed that the authors were able to contrive a whole book from such scanty material.


Japanese Rules: Japan and the Beautiful Game
Japanese Rules: Japan and the Beautiful Game
by Sebastian Moffett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.33

4.0 out of 5 stars A nice primer to the Japanese game, 17 April 2011
Despite being in existence for only 17 odd years, the J-League has firmly established itself as one of the better national leagues, indeed the dominant East Asian league, despite lacking the football pedigree of neighbouring South Korea. After all, South Korea was regularly appearing at the World Cup finals well before Japan, and its own K-League was in place as early as 1983. Now, in 2011, the J-League is placed 27th, two places ahead of the K-League, on the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) list of strongest national leagues (predictably, Spain's La Liga is top, followed by the English Premier League and Italy's Serie A). Sebastian Moffett's "Japanese Rules" goes some way in explaining how this was achieved.

Ultimately, as one may expect, it was the drive and enthusiasm of certain individuals that put in place the framework that ultimately led to the formation of the J-League. Moffett introduces us not only to these movers and shakers in the Japanese world, but also the key imports, players and managers, that raised the bar in setting an example of professionalism for the Japanese players to follow in the newly established J-League. These imports, Lineker, Wenger, Dunga, Zico and others all had to contend with cultural barriers and other difficulties as they attempted to introduce and instill modern day attitudes to playing the game in a country where saving "face' is a key driver (among other things of course) for Japanese behaviour.

The implementation of the J-League was not smooth sailing. After an initial flurry of success, in which crowd attendances soared, and the national team qualified for the 1998 World Cup, the league fell into the doldrums as Japan underwent an economic slump. Some teams merged, or disappeared altogether, much to the disappointment of the fans. The buy in of the fans is critical to the success of any new sporting venture, and the J-League was no exception. As related by Moffett, many supporter clubs looked to the South American cultures for inspiration. Moffett interviewed the leaders of many supporter clubs for their insight into the workings of their clubs and how they perceived the fans of other clubs.

By no means encyclopedic (which makes it easy to read), "Japanese Rules" serves not only as a cultural guide to football in Japan but also as a history, up until 2002 at least, of the J-League, and its precursors, as well as the state of Japan's international football. The only drawback to "Japanese Rules" is that it is relatively dated. However, given the dearth of books on this particular subject, one has to make do. In fact, the only other populist book on Japanese football that I'm aware of, in English at least, is Ultra Nippon: How Japan Reinvented Football which focuses on the Shimizu S-Pulse and is also definitely worth looking at, although like "Japanese Rules", it is dated. Now, if only someone would produce a similar book on the K-League...


Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader
Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader
by Michael Breen
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining reading but not particularly insightful, 19 Feb 2011
Michael Breen is well qualified to write about the Korean peninsular, having lived in Seoul for many years, and visiting North Korea several times. Although no scholar (he is a former journalist) Breen is also the author of "The Koreans - Who they are, what they want, where their future lies", an excellent commentary on South Korea.

Access to NK is well controlled, and highly fettered; much of Breen's book is based on testimony of NK defectors to the South and conversations with other visitors to the state. Breen has never interviewed the Dear Leader, (although he did meet the Great Leader and relates that he felt that the GL must have been struggling with flatulence!) journalists, especially foreign journalists, being treated with suspicion in North Korea. So in this respect, there is nothing really substantial to the book, and Breen has merely gathered and compiled a series of anecdotes and known facts about the Dear Leader, and added his interpretation of the man. However, I would stress that the lack of hard facts reflect more on the subject of the book, than the author: Breen literally does not have much to work with.

Breen discusses Kim Jong-il's early upbringing, quoting from school reports supposedly cited in official books about the Dear Leader. What rapidly comes through from the quotes that Breen uses, much (or all) of the state's writings about its leader smacks of brownnosing and trying to put a positive spin on events. The section about Kim Jong-il's adult life is much more based on hearsay - as Breen acknowledges, there are large sections of the Dear Leader's life about which very little is known. It is known that Kim Jong-il integrated himself to his father, although always remaining in the background, even for a time after his father's death in 1994. Even then, Kim Jong-il did not take his father's title as the Great Leader, instead preferring to use the Dear Leader, playing the dutiful son to the end.

As well as relying to an extent on hearsay, Breen also uses the Communist state's own writings - it transpires that the Dear Leader is quite a prodigious author. Although the Dear Leader probably didn't intend it that way, considerable mirth can be found in his works which are quoted by Breen, which cover topics such as movie making (Kim Jong-il is such a movie buff, that as Breen relates, he organized the kidnapping of a prominent South Korean director and his actress ex-wife) and journalism. Breen does at times go overboard in ridiculing the Dear Leader - comments about the "big hair" are rife throughout the book.

"Kim Jong-il: North Korea's Dear Leader" is not just a biography, but is also a commentary about North Korea, and how the population and military accepts his, and his father's, leadership of the country despite the dire state in which the average North Korean citizen lives. Despite numerous famines, and despite (or because of) the majority of North Korea's resources being channeled towards the military, the Dear Leader continues to have a firm grip on power. However, in more recent times (not covered by this book, which was published in 2004), there have been increasing concerns for Kim's health. As a consequence, there has been increasing public exposure of his son, who is being groomed for leadership.

Although not a substantial book, and light on hard facts (through no fault of the author), I would still recommend this book for those interested in North Korea and its leader, especially for those who shy away from the heavier, drier books out there.


Korea (Caught in Time Great Photographic Archives)
Korea (Caught in Time Great Photographic Archives)
by Terry Bennett
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpse into Korean history, 7 Feb 2011
Korea, the land of the morning calm, shut itself off from the rest of the world for as long as it could until kicking and screaming, Korea began to open its kingdom to the West for the first time in the 1870's. Korea doesn't seemed to have grabbed the imagination of the Victorian traveler in quite the same way as China or Japan, so as a consequence there is much less of a visual record of the colonial era in Korea. To compensate for this, Korea: Caught in Time helps me visualise what the people, and the places, were like as Korea moved into the modern age. As they say, a picture is worth 1000 words.

A number of photographs were taken by Herbert Ponting, who later accompanied Captain Scott to the Antarctic, and by Felice Beato, who is the first known photographer to have worked in Korea, having being part of the American Trading expedition in 1871. Other early western photographers have their images reproduced here. A number of Japanese photographers also worked in Korea, during the time of the Japanese colonial occupation, and a sampling of their work is included.There are images taken from the first significant foray by the Western world into Korea by America, American ships making their presence felt on the Korean peninsula in 1871 and capturing, probably for the first time ever, photographic images of Korean people.

There are samplings of the initial contact with the outside world, and of some of the minor ensuing conflicts. Farming and industries are depicted as is daily Korean life in the cities such as weddings and funerals, and general street scenes such as cobblers plying their trade. There are a number of formal portraits of members of the aristocracy and government officials. There are also hand coloured photographs of members of Korean embassy staff in Japan, which are interesting for the ceremonial costumes they are wearing.

Having worked in Korea, and having visited Seoul many times while I was there, I have developed a keen interest in Korean history. This book was a very useful addition to my Korean history collection as it is the only one that is extensively illustrated. I can highly recommend "Korea Caught in Time" if you have an interest in Korean history.


Emerson Fittipaldi
Emerson Fittipaldi
by Karl Ludvigsen
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decidely average take on Brazil's first Formula One Champion, 7 Feb 2011
This review is from: Emerson Fittipaldi (Hardcover)
Karl Ludvigsen is a well known journalist and motorsport historian who has written a number of motorsport themed books, including Formula One, Indycar and marque histories. Heart of a Racer is part of a series on notable F1 drivers - other driver biographies in the series include Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, and Alberto Ascari.

While being very well presented on glossy paper with a lot of black & white images, Heart of a Racer lacks substance. Ludvigsen regards Emerson as a personal friend, yet there don't appear to be any interviews with Emerson specifically for the book - published in 2002. All the quotations that Ludvigsen attribute to conversations with Fittipaldi appear to date back to interviews for articles published in the early to late 70's.

The coverage of Fittipaldi's racing career is broken down into sections - his Lotus years, the McLaren years, and the Fittipaldi years in formula one is largely glossed over in a few pages per section - there are more pages dedicated to photography in section than text. Some of the photos aren't fantastic in quality either. Apart from the opening chapter, which details the attempts at the Indy 500 over the years, there is only one other chapter which covers Emerson's Indycar career, which spanned 12 or so seasons. I was disappointed that there was not more material about Emmo's relationships with his teammates and competitors. The rivalry with Ronnie Peterson as a Lotus teammate is only slightly touched on here. And the story of Fittipaldi, the Formula One team, has really yet to be told - the chapter that relates to this period of Emerson's life is quite sketchy.

By and large, I was disappointed with Heart of a Racer - it really is not much more than a coffee table book - mostly pictures and little substance. Which is a real shame, as there are surely many interesting tales that Ludvigsen can relate about Emmo's time in motorsport. Look elsewhere for the definite story of Emerson's motorsport career - a good place to start might be Gordon Kirby's book, "Emerson Fittipaldi" written in 1990, which is often referred to by Ludvigsen in his own text.


Confession Of Pain [region 3]
Confession Of Pain [region 3]
Dvd ~ Wai Keung Lau

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Visually appealing, but sadly flawed..., 7 Feb 2011
"Confession of Pain" starts off promisingly enough as Policemen Hei and Bong are on a stakeout, tracking and capturing a killer preying on young women. The same night, Bong's girlfriend commits suicide, sending Bong's life into a downward spiral. Three years later, Hei, still a policeman and now married, asks Bong, now a troubled and alcoholic private investigator, to look into the double murders of his wife's father and servant. A trail leads to certain suspects, but they have been found to be dead. Suspicions are that a third party was involved. In the meantime, the wife, Susan, is convinced that she is being stalked. Bong digs into the case and finds that there is more to the murders that meets the eye, with the trail leading back to events in Macau over 25 years ago. By the end of the movie, Bong has determined not only who the real murderer is, but also their motivations, in a final denouement.

There is no question of the production values of the film, as "Confession of Pain" is stylishly shot and produced by the directors of the "Infernal Affairs" films. As can be expected from directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, there are numerous (and beautiful) scenes of the Hong Kong skyline as conveniently enough, just about every character has an apartment with a view out onto the Hong Kong island vista. The acting is generally good, the highlight being Takeshi Kaneshiro ("House of Flying Daggers"), who puts in a stunning turn as the troubled Bong. Tony Leung ("Infernal Affairs"), as Hei, seemed to me to be playing his role by the numbers, while comedic value is found in the role of the policeman Tsui, played by Chapman To (who played the thick gangster Yan in "Infernal Affairs").

The trouble with "Confession of Pain" lies with the plot. For most of the film, we already know the identity of the murderer, this being revealed in a clanging shift in narrative a short way into the story as the murders are perpetuated - initially, I was left wondering if the murder scenes were just a dream sequence. Although the viewer is still left mystified as why the murders were committed, the revelation of the identity of the murderer this early on in the story reduces the tension somewhat for the rest of the film. My feeling is that "Confession of Pain" may have worked better as a "whodunnit". There are also jumps in plot logic, which are hard to rationalise. At one stage, the two leads pursue an unknown assailant through the backstreets of Hong Kong, and ultimately lose him - the assailant pops up again later in the film, and his identity is revealed - according to the character's back story, explained earlier in the film, shouldn't this guy still be in jail for what he did?

For all its flaws, "Confession of Pain" has some good points which do save the film from being a below average flick, and is still worthwhile watching as a study of pain resulting from loss of a loved one. But really, only fans of the directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak are probably going to enjoy "Confession of Pain", as are followers of the two lead actors. Others looking for a repeat of "Infernal Affairs" best look elsewhere.


Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II
Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II
by Colin Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive look at the Malayan campaign of 1941/42, 7 Feb 2011
The fall of Singapore, that bastion of the far east, represented a massive defeat for the British. The author has done a superb job in blending together the aerial, naval and land battles of 1941/42 Malaya into a thoroughly readable account of the Malayan campaign. After setting the scene of pre-invasion Malaya (and not ignoring the lack of preparation and willpower in making Malaya as defensible as possible with the British emphasis on Europe and Africa theatres of operations), the focus initially is on the unenviable aircraft of the RAF and their initial skirmishes with the Japanese, and then shifts to Force Z as Admiral Phillip's battleships steam northwards from Singapore to their eventual sinking at the hands of Japanese torpedo bombers. Following the failure of the RAF and the Royal Navy in bringing the Japanese to account, the responsibility falls upon the soldiers to defend Malaya. Of course, events (and politics) conspire against the Allies, and the army has to withdraw down Malaya and into Singapore before the final humiliation of surrender.

What sets "Singapore Burning" apart from many other narratives of the Malayan campaign is the number of personal reminiscences of the campaign from the rank and file. This is not a top heavy strategic analysis of the campaign, but a muddy, sweaty and downright dangerous account of often squad or platoon level forays with the Japanese. The author interviewed many veterans, and consulted many sources both English and Japanese, in compiling the stories of the pilots, the sailors and the soldiers. Heroic and some not so heroic endeavours of combat, and sheer survival in many cases, from both sides are recounted. Of course, where necessary, the author steps back to provide the reader with the commander's perspective so the reader may have an appreciation of the larger scheme of things.

It is also noteworthy that effort is not spared in dealing with the Indian Army units, of which there were many participating in Malaya. Given the sheer number of nationalities involved (British, Indian, Malayan, Australian, Dutch and New Zealanders among others), the author would be forgiven for focusing on the British and Australian units which would provide the overwhelming majority of sources for the campaign. However, the stories of the Indian and Gurkha soldiers and their brave contributions are not overlooked. Additionally, Japanese viewpoints and heroics (and their atrocities) are integrally part of the overall discussion.

"Singapore Burning" includes a number of maps in the beginning pages of the book, which helps provide context for the campaign, particularly the land battles. There are also three inserts of black and white photography, which supplement the majority of the text nicely. "Singapore Burning" is thoroughly recommended for both serious and casual readers of military history.


France, 1940: Blitzkrieg in the West (Osprey Campaign)
France, 1940: Blitzkrieg in the West (Osprey Campaign)
by Alan Sheppard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing and shallow effort, 15 Jan 2011
Quite simply, this is one of the more disappointing entries in Osprey's Campaign Series. This is largely due to the nature of the campaign itself, which involved a rapid advance right across the interior of France. The likes of Normandy and Austerlitz (two of Osprey's earlier Campaign titles) have a much more limited focus as thus is better dealt in a slender volume such as the Campaign Series. The vast movements of the German army are trivialised into disjointed day by day narrative and a few battles, some of which (the crossing of the Meuse in particular) probably deserve their own titles in the Campaign Series! I notice Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of Russia, is dealt with by Osprey across three titles (Army Groups South, Centre and North) in the Campaign Series, such was the depth of that campaign. France 1940 probably deserves a similar approach, perhaps by treating Von Bock's foray and holding movements separately to Rundstedt's thrust through the Ardennes. However, even this approach is still unlikely to be satisfactory.

A further disappointment is the illustrations. The majority of the photographs have little to commend themselves and do not provide much context to the narrative. Some are just plain pointless. For example, there is a two page plan view of a ME109 on pages 22 and 23; the text preceding these pages (and immediately following) is about the morale of the French forces. In any event, a profile view of the same plane had already been provided on page 18! I suspect that at least one of the illustrations is incorrectly captioned (a Panzer II Ausf. b is identified as a Panzer II Ausf. B on page 14 - there is a difference between these two models). The narrative itself is rushed - this is most apparent in the section of the book discussing the commanders in which both French and German commanders are given short shrift. In this instance, given the illustrations did not provide as much context as one would have liked, it seems to be that more effort could have gone into the text by sacrificing some of the illustrations (e.g. that two page spread of the ME109!).

I have a number of the titles within Osprey's Campaign Series. Given the slender nature of these books (96 pages usually), I do not expect a detailed account of the battles and campaigns - I like being able to dip into the books without having to invest too much in learning of the context. If the book is of interest, I then seek out further reading. Even so, France 1940 does not do the subject justice, even to my militarily uneducated mind. Still, I suppose France 1940 does provide a basic overview (emphasis on basic), as well as key events, of the campaign, and as such may have some appeal to those who do not require a reasonable appreciation of the events of May 1940. Otherwise, it is best avoided. A better appreciation of France's fall may be found in The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940 (Making of the Modern World).


The Frozen Circle
The Frozen Circle
by Peter Watt
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and fast paced historical thriller, 15 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Frozen Circle (Paperback)
"The Frozen Circle" is a thriller with two story lines, the first having its historical basis in a pair of Australian soldiers becoming involved with the Allied Expeditionary Force which assisted the "Whites" in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920. The second story line places the events of the Russian Civil War in the context of the modern day discovery of two skeletons on a property in rural Australia, which causes an Australian cop (and former military man) to become involved in determining not only the identity of the skeletons but how they got there. These two separate events are connected, and the Aussie cop does his best to link them, while trying to remain detached from a growing attraction to the female owner of the property on which the skeletons were found. To complicate matters, the British Special Intelligence Service becomes involved, in an attempt to disrupt the cop's investigations.

The story switches back and forth between a war ravaged Europe in 1919 and present day rural Australia throughout the book, revealing the events of each time line in chronological fashion. The author does this quite satisfactorily without detracting from the pace of the story - although invariably at many points, the author leaves one time line on a cliffhanger to switch to the other time line. This tends to leave the reader on edge, and certainly helped me power through the book. The main characters are generally well written, although supporting characters tend to be shallow sketches, and a couple of characters are quite "convenient" for the story narrative.

Of course, no modern day thriller would be complete without a plot twist of some kind, and "The Frozen Circle" is no exception. Trouble is, the observant reader should be able to spot these early on (and perhaps the not so observant reader as well - I'm normally pretty slow catching these things but even I spotted this one coming). Thus, the impact of the plot twist is not perhaps as astonishing as the author hopes. Still, don't let this detract from what is quite an enjoyable and fast paced novel about one of the more chaotic events of modern history.


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