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Sino-Japanese Armageddon
Sino-Japanese Armageddon
Price: £4.09

1.0 out of 5 stars Shockingly badly translated, 15 Sep 2014
It seems like this has been run through Google Translate - it's almost comically unreadable. A sample sentence reads "Japan's Imperial Army China halt a Tun soldier commander officer joss-stick month the pure department lieutenant general immediately orderany two troopses of divisions and attackstone the soup boon of south Bo Jun". The rest of the Kindle sample is the same, and there's no reason to think the whole book is any better. Avoid.


Orders from Berlin
Orders from Berlin
Price: £2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A very mixed bag, 7 May 2013
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My overall impression of this book is that Tolkien isn't quite sure who he's writing for. He seems to be trying to cover a number of genres and succeeds in none of them. The cover (which is what attracted me) hints at a shadowy world of espionage, perhaps reminiscent of Alan Furst's tarnished Europe, or Eric Ambler. Spying is the strongest influence throughout, and Tolkien is clearly following the le Carre mould here - traitors in MI6 who must be hunted down at all costs (he even uses the word 'mole', which was invented by le Carre and not used during WWII!) but doesn't really follow this up with the cynicism or tradecraft of le Carre. Moreover, as anyone aware of the history of espionage in WWII knows, the Germans didn't have any agents in Britain in such a high position - they were all poorly-trained and caught on arrival, often after stupid mistakes. The specifics of the Churchill assassination plot are amateur at best, and full of holes. Overall, the spy angle has been done better by other authors, so espionage aficionados aren't getting much out of the book here; none of the technical details of espionage, or the murky, ambiguous atmosphere of other writers.

There's an element of mystery in the book - the protagonist is a detective - but incredibly little detection. The identity of the spy is given away in their first appearance - it's not explicit, but so obvious that I'm wondering if it would really be a spoiler to give it away. This is then confirmed half-way through, so the mystery is gone and we are left plodding through the motions and trying to guess if Churchill will be saved, which isn't much fun, as we all know the answer. Usually, authors will either hide the identity of the villain completely, throwing out red herrings and ambiguities, until the very last possible moment, or make it obvious to the reader (but not to the other characters) so we can enjoy the cat-and-mouse chase from the bad guy's perspective. Tolkien opts for a sort of middle ground that satisfies no-one.

There's a murder in there, too, but it's secondary to the spy plot and not really dwelt upon. Despite their being a plucky heroine with a failing marriage, there's no romance here either. The detective's already happily married, and his affections are strictly platonic, leaving any hint of a love story dead in the water; not even a hint of attraction.

There are good parts, though. It's well written, with deft character sketches, and though it's nowhere near as redolent of the period as Alan Furst or David Downing, there's a sense of Britain under siege and how people felt at the time. For me, though, the most enjoyable aspect was the historical characters. Tolkien has obviously done his research, and produced compelling portraits of Hitler and Heydrich, the latter being the stand-out character for me. The complexity of the man is well captured - a brave fighter pilot, capable of playing the violin beautifully, yet an utter sociopath responsible for the death of millions (the final scene in the book is chilling, for those who know what Heydrich got up to next). Churchill gets less screen time, but is still excellent.

Whilst reading Orders From Berlin, I kept making the inevitable comparisons to Jack Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed (another book about Germans trying to assassinate Churchill in 1943, and well worth a look). Despite being a better-written work, Orders From Berlin is let down by its poor mystery elements, thin plot, and lack of action or suspense. We go from A to B to C, watching the characters find out stuff we already know, including if Churchill survives or not. Higgins' book relies on its fast pace and tense action scenes, together with the thrill of rooting for the bad guys, to carry its action along. I can't say I'd be tempted to try another one of Simon Tolkien's books, to be honest - Orders From Berlin just isn't exciting enough.


Opening Moves (The Red Gambit Series Book 1)
Opening Moves (The Red Gambit Series Book 1)
Price: £3.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overall, an excellent piece of alternate history, 28 Dec 2012
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I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. The concept of a 1945 Soviet invasion of Western Europe's pretty cool, and it's handled well by the author. The book's clearly a labour of love, and the plans for rest of the series suggest that it's well-planned and researched. The battle scenes were very good, with plenty of action, and they were usually easy enough to follow, even without the slightly too small maps (that's the fault of the Kindle format, not the author). Characters were better than I usually see in an alternate-history work, with details fleshing out even minor individuals. It was also nice to see both sides given their fair due. Far too often I read about cackling Germans/Russians/Japanese with no redeeming features, capable of only brutality and aggression. Well done Mr Gee for recognising that the Russians are human too!
There were a few minor points that I didn't enjoy, though many of these are subjective. I felt that the 1940's setting didn't come across strongly: it was hard to remember that this was all taking place in the aftermath of WWII, rather than in the more common late-80's period. Secondly, the sections when Eisenhower is reflecting on the day's events were too long; ultimately it boiled down to "Russians doing well here, Allies holding here", rather than the overly-detailed breakdown of the front. The same goes for the order of battle that we get before a big fight; it's nice that we know who's engaging who, and it's indicative of the amount of work that's gone in, but perhaps an appendix at the back? Lastly, during the battle scenes (which are otherwise superb) the insistence on referring to the order of battle means that sometimes the action comes across as a bit clinical.
Overall, though, Red Gambit: Opening Moves stands head and shoulders above the usual gamut of alternate history, and is easily better than Red Storm Rising! The concept is sound and well-thought out, the "bad guys" are equally as valorous as the "good guys", and the battle scenes are exciting and brutal. I just finished Opening moves this morning, about an hour ago, and I've already started the next in the series!

As an aside, I'm not one to nitpick the details, but I did notice two mistakes that kept popping up again and again: it's 'Marshal' not 'Marshall' for the ilitary rank - an over-zealous spellchecker I think - and the Soviets never called the Mosin-Nagant rifle the 'Nagant'; it's simply known as the 'Mosin', as Nagant was a Belgian who contributed little to the overall design, and Lt. Sergei Mosin was a Russian, so pride dictates that the rifle's the Mosin, when Russians refer to it.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2013 7:13 AM GMT


Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great instalment, 15 Oct 2012
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Even though it's only the second book, the Tom Swan series has hit its stride. The first story was relatively self-contained, as befitting a pilot chapter so to speak, but in this one there's more of a sense of an overarching plot developing. Despite the title, the action is fairly far-flung, starting in Rome, and moving swiftly through Venice to Constantinople. Christian Cameron's clearly done his homework on daily life in the Middle Ages, and he manages to make topics such as selling antiques and buying new clothes engaging and humorous. The characters are developed, too. Tom Swan's likeable and quick with his wits, but it turns out he's also too quick with his blade, with interesting results. Suffice to say that Tom has a lot of potential as a recurring character.
All in all, it's a short, breezy read, and one that's highly recommended. I've heard through the grapevine that Tom Swan's not selling too well, but hopefully the solid reviews it's getting will convince people to buy more - and it's only 99p! How could you go wrong, really?


Milligan and the Samurai Rebels
Milligan and the Samurai Rebels
Price: £3.08

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable intro to the Bakumatsu period, 23 Sep 2012
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I picked this one up on a whim, as I normally steer well clear of the numerous successors to Flashman that are popping up on the e-book market. However, one of my biggest regrets was that Flashman never made his way into the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868) when Japan suddenly discovered the world. It's a really cool era in world history, with loads going on and lots of iconic people and happenings. 'Milligan and the Samurai Rebels' manages to cover most of the most notable events between 1862 and 1865, when things started getting really interesting.
The action's fast-paced, sending the lily-livered hero careening across most of Japan in an entertaining fashion - it's not Flashman, but I wasn't expecting it to be so, so I wasn't disappointed. The plot stretches the boundaries of credibility in places, but it works well enough and keeps Milligan on the move.
The best part of the book is the historical and cultural aspects. I'm quite well-versed in Japanese history, so I didn't learn much that was new, but for someone fresh to the topic, they couldn't go far wrong with this. The historical background (Perry, the coming of the Black Ships) is all there. It's nice to see the French getting a look in as well. Viewers of the Tom Cruise film 'The Last Samurai' may be surprised to learn that the character he plays is based on a Frenchman. Trust Hollywood to obfuscate history to pander to the US market. I enjoyed the breezy factual parts so much, it was quite a shock to reach the end and find no historical note! Definitely a failing - a historical fiction novel needs one, even if here it's quite easy to sort out fact and fiction. Similarly, a list of real historical personages wouldn't go amiss. Saigo Takamori's significance might well escape a casual reader; ditto with Sakamoto Ryoma.
This brings me on to the most necessary thing: a sequel! The Bakumatsu has yet to reach its dramatic climax in 1865. Milligan's started off very promisingly: it would be a real shame if this was an orphaned series. Surely he has to cover the Boshin War? There's hints too of waht will become the Satsuma-Choshu alliance - will we see it come to fruition?
Finally, two trivial things: I was saddened not to see Milligan get mixed up in the fight at the Ikedaya, one of the cooler swordfights in Japanese history, with the iconic Shinsengumi swordsmen duking it out with fanatical Choshu rebels. And as for Choshu, having lived in what was once Choshu Han, it was a novelty to see them portrayed as a bunch of fanatical maniacs: not how the museums in Hagi tell it at all!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2013 10:44 AM BST


Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part One: Castillon
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part One: Castillon
Price: £0.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent short story, more please!, 20 Sep 2012
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I've not read any of Christian Cameron's books, but I've had my eye on him as a potential new author for a while. When I saw that he was launching a monthly saga set in the late Middle Ages, I picked it up straight away, and I was glad I did.
It starts immediately after the battle of Castillon, which isn't described, making me wonder why it was subtitled 'Castillon', but no matter - it's a small point. Without spoiling the plot, we get to meet some very interesting characters, and they're all drawn with skil and humour. Some of the banter's very good, and I look forward to hearing more of it in subsequent books. The daily events of medieval life come across as very authentic, and you really get a feel for travelling through France.
If I had one complaint, it would be that the combat's a little dry; there's none of the visceralness that Bernard Cornwell, for one, manages to conjure up in his battles. But that might just be me, and it's certainly not a reason not to buy this book!
Overall, an excellent read, and long may the story of Tom Swan continue!


Traitor's Blood: Book 1 of The Civil War Chronicles
Traitor's Blood: Book 1 of The Civil War Chronicles
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good first novel, but improvements needed, 20 Sep 2012
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I wanted to like this book, I really did. The period's fascinating, and the potential for dramatic fiction is high. Michael Arnold's basic idea of a Sharpe-style hero getting involved in every major battle is a good one, and the character himself is serviceable enough - not as appealing as Sharpe, say, but he carries the story nicely. His backstory hints at service on the continent, and marks him nicely as a mercenary captain of the kind that were so common in the 17th century. The other characters, though, are a forgettable bunch - I kept failing to remember who was who, and just labelled them all as sidekicks in my mind. Maybe kill a few off next time?
The biggest flaw in the novel, though, was the plot. Quite often in the military history fiction genre, the protagonist is sent off away from the army, with just a few chosen companions, on a Mission That Will Alter The Course Of The War. Fair enough, it's a good device if used well. Here, it's not. The whole master spy thing's been done before, and it's hard to care here. What should be a rich, engrossing read about battles degenerates into a dull trudge through empty countryside, with the usual meaningless skirmishes along the way. I wanted Civil War action - the push of pike, Rupert's cavaliers! The book starts with the end of the battle of Edgehill (or Kineton Fight as it's referred to, which I really liked) and the reader sees very little of the action. Bad move, as when we do get to see the armies clash it's great. This is what I came for! I thought, as russet-coated captains yelled at doughty pikemen and musketeers popped away into the smoke. The climactic Battle of Brentford is fantastic!
One thing that irked me, but other people might not have a problem with, is the characterisation. I prefer my heroes a bit more morally ambiguous. At times, Stryker was a bit too good. His flaws, like battle lust, are the sort that appeal to the male mind, and thus aren't really flaws at all. Similarly, the baddies are irredeemable monsters. More of a balance might be nicer.
In conclusion, it's a passable first novel. There's loads of potential, especially with the battles. Next time, leave Stryker with the army, where the action is!


The Hell Screen (Akitada Mysteries Book 5)
The Hell Screen (Akitada Mysteries Book 5)
Price: £4.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 17 Sep 2012
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I particularly enjoyed this novel, having experienced a stay at a Japanese mountain temple in a storm, so from the first pages this one had me hooked. Set mostly in Kyoto, the plot diverges from most murder-mysteries by having 3 unrelated investigations going on at the same time, reminiscent of the superb Judge Dee mysteries. Another aspect that appealed to me was the homage paid to Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of Japan's finest short story writers, famous for his Heian-period story 'Hell Screen', among others. This book acknowledges this debt, and I J Parker has created a fine tribute.
One small thing that I found rather interesting was Akitada's dislike for Buddhists. In modern times, the image of Buddhism is one of peace and compassion, a virtuous religion. It's intriguing to realise this was not always so, and the corrupt practices of the priesthood will probably surprise most readers, while it also highlights Akitada's status as a man of his times (it's so nice to read a historical novel where the author doesn't feel the need to soft-soap modern sensibilities by making the protagonist behave uncharacteristically for the time!)


The Masuda Affair (Akitada Mysteries Book 7)
The Masuda Affair (Akitada Mysteries Book 7)
Price: £3.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent offering, 17 Sep 2012
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I'm not usually a fan of mystery novels, but I do make an exception for I J Parker's Akitada series. Partly it's the setting - 11th century Japan's not so common in the world of literature - and partly it's just that they're so enjoyable. The characters are well-rounded, with flaws (sometimes significant ones) and that really comes to the fore in The Masuda Affair. Several times I worried about the relationships in the book unsure whether or not they would be resolved. It's rare for a book to pull me in this way, but this one managed it. Desipte the overall depressing nature of the book, there are some comic moments that had me chuckling, which I would love to share but won't for fear it'l spoil your enjoyment. The Masuda Affair is a highly-recommended mystery novel set in an unusual and interesting period, with a likeable and intriguing cast. Buy it!


Feast of Bones
Feast of Bones
by Daniel Bolger
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking stuff, 29 Jun 2012
This review is from: Feast of Bones (Paperback)
It's rare for a book to show the Soviet military in a sympathetic light, even rarer for that book to be written during the Cold War! The main character is Dmitri Donskoy, a Soviet paratroop officer, who fights across the globe. The book, set between 1979 and 1985, ranges from training in the USSR to the invasion of Grenada, Afghanistan for the bulk of the work, and lastly the Kremlin in Moscow. Special mention goes to the chapter headings, which are wonderously evocative and set the tone nicely.
The book's main emphasis is on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it's so gratifying to read an American work that doesn't descend into 'evil empire' stereotypes. The Soviet military there is composed of professional troops who get on with the job, soldiers just serving out their draft, incompetents and cowards - i.e. a normal selection of humans. Cackling sadists they are not. However, nor does the book shy away from the realities of the war, including torture and massacre. The reader is left to decide for themselves how they view the characters in the light of what they do. The various actions the Soviet army undertook are described in some detail, as well as the problems with their war effort. Nocturnal ambushing, reconnaissance, and full-scale assaults all get a turn in the spotlight. Donskoy himself comes across as an ideal soldier, a mouthpiece of the author, but this never detracts from the story. His behaviour an methodology don't seem to square with the Soviet army's way of doing things, but I suspect they are meant to be contrasted.
Feast of Bones' cast is varied and memorable; shout-outs go to the mentor figure (whose name I forget, begins with a 'P') and "that shifty-looking commisar" Zharkowsky, the book's mosst ruthless individual and the most interesting (for me, at any rate). Historical characters get a look-in, such as Gorbachev, whose section of the book is very intriguing. The very last lines are especially thought-provoking in a metaphysical way!
An excellent book with a good storyline; the view from the other side of the hill makes this one stand out. It's not every day you root for a Soviet para shooting up American helicopters, after all, and all credit for Daniel Bolger for making it work.


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