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James Kemp (Merstham, Surrey, UK)

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The Truth (Area 51 series)
The Truth (Area 51 series)
Price: 3.49

4.0 out of 5 stars shades of von Daniken, 8 Mar 2013
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This is the end of a series of these books, and it probably makes more sense if you've read the whole lot. That said, I came to it as a result of a free promotion on amazon and read it cold and it still worked for me.

There are shades of von Daniken here, as the author has taken all the conspiracy theories about the ancient civilisations being planted here by aliens and run with them. It is an all action hero saves the world type of book, and very good for when you need to disengage from reality and indulge in pure escapism.


The Last Manned Fighter
The Last Manned Fighter
Price: 0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Totally believable future, 2 Mar 2013
I really enjoyed reading this piece, it rolled us forward a couple of decades or so logically and looked at how the changes in technology that we can see now already shaped some cultural changes in manned combat flights.

I also found it an excellent affirmation of the research I did for my own writing.

Strongly recommend it for those interested in development of current military capabilities.


Farewell Horizontal
Farewell Horizontal
Price: 3.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking & well put together, 15 Jan 2013
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Excellent thought provoking and very well put together science fiction with a little twist, which left me wanting a little more from it.

Ignoring the setting for a moment this is really a story about the rat race and how it affects people. It is set in a strange, slightly unbelievable, environment on the side of a massive building in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, probably on another planet. However none of that really matters, and the point of the story, which is well crafted, is that sometimes you need to stop and think about things rather than just striving for the next payday.

The primary character is a freelancer struggling to make enough income to cover all his costs, and on the point of bankruptcy. He lives on the outside vertical space of the building while he attempts to make enough to get back inside near the top. In the implicit hierarchy of things he sees himself as above those inside because he has his freedom, and he isn't working as a wage slave. However what he seeks is the ready wealth to live a life of comfort near the top of the building (and by implication being back inside but with his freedom intact).

Avoiding spoilers, he has some apparent luck, and makes a start on realising his dream even though it involves mixing with some unsavoury characters. Just when it looks like it is working out his luck vanishes and he ends up in unfamiliar territory, having to think of things for himself and outside his normal networks. This enforced reflection, facilitated by a couple of new characters that treat him almost like an intelligent child, leads him to some startling revelations, and his resulting actions to try and save his skin have wider consequences.

The book is rather shorter than most I've read recently, but still thought provoking and very well put together. The background doesn't get in the way of the story, but makes it interesting, and the early quibbles I had about the setting were very effectively dealt with in the last part of the story when the main character starts to question the environment. I think it deliberately leaves a lot of mystery and there are several hooks for a follow-on, although I would have liked the story to continue a bit further, the ending it does have is satisfying and consistent with the general thrust of the story.


To Reason Why
To Reason Why
by Sir Denis Forman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.83

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest memoir of the realities of battle, 21 Aug 2012
This review is from: To Reason Why (Paperback)
This is more than just an infantry officer's memoir. Denis Forman was closely involved in the Battle School movement that transformed the British Army's infantry training during the second world war. He then went on to serve alongside Lionel Wigram (the primary proponent and intellectual leader of the Battle School movement) in Italy. The story is as much about Lionel Wigram as it is about Denis Forman himself.

However one of the stand out pieces for me is the honest treatment of how men deal with battle. The psychological impact and how unreliable things become is often not mentioned in most memoirs, there is an unspoken need not to embarrass anyone, or bring up things better left to lie. This book manages to discuss it without shaming anyone.

Also, the appendices have copies of the reports into the lessons from the Sicily campaign drawn by Lionel Wigram. Not published at the time because they were too controversial they tell an interesting story of how the theory met reality.


Black Watch: Liberating Europe and Catching Himmler - My Extraordinary WW2 with the Highland Division
Black Watch: Liberating Europe and Catching Himmler - My Extraordinary WW2 with the Highland Division
by Tom Renouf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.10

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Campaign History from Veterans' Perspective, 18 May 2012
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This is a campaign history written by a veteran of 5th Bn Black Watch who later became the secretary of the Highland Division Association. Direct personal accounts, both from the author and other veterans, are used to tell the story of the 51st Highland Division in a very personal way. This book offers some new perspectives on the battles of the 51st, especially those in the final months of the war in which the author was personally involved.

The book starts with some background on the author's family and his early life. His link to the Highland Division starts with his father's WW1 service. When war comes he is still too young to be involved, but at the earliest opportunity he volunteers for service in the hope that he can join the 51st Highland Division. However the ways of the Army don't work out as he would have preferred, and he ends up in a replacement company of the Tyneside Scottish (a Black Watch battalion) and spends the first few weeks after D-Day in Normandy waiting to be assigned as a replacement. Eventually though he is assigned to a rifle company and blooded.

After the breakout his battalion is broken up and he is assigned to the 5th Black Watch. Shortly afterwards he is wounded and spends time recovering and then working his way through the replacement system to re-join his company in the Autumn. All the period when he is out of the line he uses other veterans stories to tell what happened to the Division (and indeed also for context around his personal accounts too).

Whether you have an interest in the Highland Division, in the infantry experience in the Second World War or the campaigns it is well worth reading.


Stonemouth
Stonemouth
by Iain Banks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.19

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking story with complex but believable characters, 12 April 2012
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This review is from: Stonemouth (Hardcover)
While there are familiar elements to the story, it being set in small town Scotland, it is a new tale from Ian Banks. The story is told in a first person point of view style, and on a first reading at least, realistically leaves some loose ends where the protagonist cannot be sure of who did what and why.

Taking place over a long weekend the story unfolds with a mixture of narrative and flashbacks to explain the background relationships and the reasons why Stewart Gilmour ended up an exile from his home town. There is a believable cast of characters, they all seem real and with complex motivations, even the low-key gangster types. The underlying plot is one of relationships and how they interplay over time. It also covers some of the issues of the Scottish diaspora well, how it feels to return to your hometown and meet your school friends who have stayed. I could empathise well with those thoughts.

Overall definitely worth reading, the story got me hooked after about 50 pages or so and I took an extended lunch and then stayed up late to keep on reading it. I think it will probably stand up well to a second reading to check on some of the clues uncovered later in the book. I also reckon it would make a very good TV drama, with lots of interpersonal interplay.


Midnight in Some Burning Town: British Special Forces operations from Belgrade to Baghdad
Midnight in Some Burning Town: British Special Forces operations from Belgrade to Baghdad
by Christian Jennings
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More about Kosovo & Macedonia than anything else, 12 April 2012
I actually enjoyed reading this book, even though it wasn't the book that I thought I was buying. I had ordered it expecting that it would tell me about the various special forces missions that UK forces had been up to between the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and when it was published (in 2004).

It sort of covered that, but there was no real detail to much of the early stuff, for example the Sierra Leone mission is dealt with in a couple of pages. I've seen some other (much more detailed) accounts of the events (from the point of view of the Paras and the kidnapped Major).

However, where it does come into its own is when it explains the issues around Kosovo and Macedonia. The author obviously had a strong interest in this period (possibly based on working there as a journalist) and had clearly spoken to several involved parties (or done some very good research). The writing style is very easy to read, clearly articulates the issues and the motivations of the various parties and also explains the background to the situations very well. You get a lot of the flavour of the conflict and the terror of villagers in the Balkans from the book. It also explains some of the behind the scenes bits that the NATO forces were involved in (not just SF types, others as well). In fact if the book had been billed as an in-depth look at Kosovo and Macedonian conflict in 1999-2004 then it would perhaps have been more honest (although perhaps with fewer sales).

There is a reasonable treatment of the early Afghanistan operations, although there wasn't apparently much going on there from a British point of view up to 2004 (we got heavily involved in 2006, two years after the book was first published). It also covers the effect on the SAS of the expansion in operations since 9/11 and also the Iraq war (which is part of the proof that the author has spoken to some of the SF community or those closely connected to it as he knew in 2004 of the impending manpower crisis that the explosion in PMC work in Iraq caused).

One of the more interesting bits is a speculative section near the end on what an operation to capture Radovan Karadzic might look like and who it might involve. This was the sort of thing that you might expect from a book about special forces missions (albeit non-speculative narratives of actual missions based on interviews with those involved).

Overall, if you are interested in the Balkans conflicts this is well worth reading, although perhaps shorter on that than a dedicated book might be.


Defeat Into Victory: (Pan Military Classics Series)
Defeat Into Victory: (Pan Military Classics Series)
by William Slim
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.80

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best book on soldiers, soldiering and the art of warfighting, 28 Feb 2012
An army officer friend of mine sent me the book with the following endorsement "It is quite simply the best book on soldiers, soldiering and the art of warfighting that I have read". It very much lives up to that the reputation, easy to read, powerful insights and some excellent maps to follow the action on.

The last section is most definitely the best, Slim shows his depth of insight when he breaks out of the narrative (which is good narrative, but the insight is fabulous).

A friend sent me a copy of Field Marshal Bill Slim's Defeat Into Victory. It has always been on my list of books I'd like to read, but somehow I'd never quite got round to acquiring a copy. The version I have is a reading copy of the original edition, with fold out maps all through it.

The reading style is very engaging and easy to read, especially if you have the space to fold out the map at the end of the chapter so that you can follow all the places when they appear in the narrative. It was the first time I'd read about the ebb and flow of the war in Burma (even though my grandfather drove a DUKW out there). So I found it very
interesting, the nature of warfare was hugely different that both Europe and North Africa (and I suspect even the Pacific Islands). In some respects the war fought in Burma was more like recent modern wars with low troop densities, long logistics tails and a massive reliance on air power.

The other engaging bit about the book was that Slim shows you the development of the army from a road bound Western linear fighting force into an all arms, all round defence, jungle fighting machine. In the beginning the British Army is out of its depth and way beyond the ken of its commanders or troops. The Japanese have infiltration tactics that the British just can't cope with, and are so stubborn in defence that they cannot be shifted when they gain a hold. The British just dissolve and retreat rapidly out of the way (mostly).

It isn't just a story of the British Army, as well as colonial forces (Indians and Africans mostly) there is also the alliance warfare aspect of the war. He liaises with Vinegar Joe Stillwell and the Chinese Army too.

Later, the British manage to shorten their lines of communication, build defences and work out how to deal with the Japanese. Once they do, then the tables turn, although it takes much stubborn fighting to shift the enemy. There is a good narrative that explains the constraints the 14th Army was operating under, the logistics challenges and how these were overcome and also the details of the operations. Occasionally there are little personal vignettes of visits to the front, or reports of battles.

One of the things I noted was the commentary on how few prisoners were taken, mostly it was a grim fight to the death by both sides. A typical note on a Japanese attack was that there was one prisoner taken and 600 Japanese bodies recovered from the 14th Army positions.

However, great as all this is, the last section of the book is the best. In the last chapter Slim gives his opinions on why things turned out the way that they did and also on what he draws as lessons for the future. Given that this was written in 1957 he has a lot to say that I think was quite prescient about current operations (and it might also have been right for the post-nuclear exchange as well, but thankfully we've avoided that).


The London Blitz: A Fireman's Tale
The London Blitz: A Fireman's Tale
by Cyril Demarne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading on the Fire Service in WW2, 31 Jan 2012
This is one of the best first-hand stories of fire-fighting during the London Blitz in 1940. The author was a pre-war London Fire Brigade officer and served in the West Ham area through the blitz of 1940. The book is short and to the point, but it clearly shows what was going on, the challenges faced by the fire service and the heroism that got them through some very difficult situations. All the more so as the majority of them were volunteers drafted in at the start of the war, so they'd never seen an uncontrolled fire before.


The Folklore of Discworld
The Folklore of Discworld
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Reference for Discworld Readers, 31 Jan 2012
I'm a fan of both Terry Pratchett and folklore. I definitely learnt some things, but also knew quite a lot of it already, which perhaps reflects the four star rating rather than the five one might otherwise expect given my stated interests.

You don't need to have read all the discworld novels to get this book, but you do need to be a discworld reader or a large chunk of it will be lost on you. This book is a reference list that explains how earth's folklore (primarily British, but not exclusively so) has influenced the stories, and it comes with a really good index at the back. So you could have it on the side when reading through the various discworld books to look up the bits you weren't sure of. However, it works best on the novels set outside Ankh-Morpork. From memory the most referenced are Pyramids, Sourcery, Hogfather, Lords and Ladies, Soul Music, Monstrous Regiment and the Tiffany Aching books.

Another word on spoilers. Although there are a good number of quoted sections and explanations of references I don't think any of these directly related to the main plots of the stories. However, you might want to read the actual Discworld books before reading this one. You'll enjoy it all the more for being familiar with the stories.


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